Audrey Driscoll

Biography

Three quarters of the way through a career as a cataloguing librarian, Audrey Driscoll discovered she is actually a writer. Since the turn of the millennium, she has written and published several novels and a short story collection. She gardens, juggles words, and communes with fictitious characters in Victoria, British Columbia.

Smashwords Interview

What is the story behind your books?
Quite literally, it's "Herbert West, Reanimator," an early short story by H.P. Lovecraft. Herbert West, Lovecraft's corpse-reanimating doctor, has more personality than most of HPL's protagonists, whose main function is to experience horror. I began wondering about Herbert -- what lay behind his bizarre interests? Why did his friend help and support him? To answer those questions I wrote the four novels of the Herbert West Series, which take Herbert on a long journey and transform him from an amoral, rational scientist to a wounded healer, psychopomp and magus.
What genre do your books belong to?
That's an excellent question (which is what interviewees say instead of "I don't know"). The Lovecraft story on which The Friendship of Mortals, the first book of the series, is based, is a combination of science fiction and horror. I retained elements of these genres, but I would call this book, and the others of the series, "psychological fiction." Instead of the process of corpse revivification, or what the corpses do once they come back to life, I focus on Herbert West and his librarian friend, Charles Milburn. I explore their friendship, the choices they make, and how they deal with the consequences of those choices. The second through fourth books of the series depart almost entirely from horror, apart from the plain old human kind. Readers who come to the series because of its origin in HPL's story may be disappointed, but I think my characters and their situations are sufficiently interesting to keep them engaged. If I had to create a genre label for the series, I would go with "literary supernatural/psychological." Lumpy but accurate.
Read more of this interview.

Where to find Audrey Driscoll online

Audrey Driscoll's favorite authors on Smashwords

Berthold Gambrel
Latest book: Vespasian Moon's Fabulous Autumn Carnival.
Published October 16, 2019. (4.50 from 2 reviews)
Bill Fitts
Latest book: The Scattered Winds.
Published February 22, 2021. (5.00 from 1 review)
Christopher St. John
Latest book: Summerday.
Published March 30, 2023.
Ian J Miller
Latest book: Red Gold.
Published February 25, 2024.
Michael Graeme
Latest book: A Lone Tree Falls.
Published December 4, 2022. (4.50 from 2 reviews)
PJ O'Brien
Latest book: Waterloo Sunset: Book 4 in Sanctuary Series.
Published May 8, 2020. (5.00 from 1 review)

Smashwords book reviews by Audrey Driscoll

  • A Ghost Story of the Norfolk Broads on May 14, 2011

    I enjoyed this story. It's quietly told, with a slow up-ratcheting of tension. The setting was another plus for me. I've never been to the Norfolk Broads, except in imagination, courtesy of Arthur Ransome. I enjoyed seeing the place names I was familiar with from his books in a totally different context. As a ghost story, this reminded me of M.R. James -- the same literate, understated creepiness. I recommend it.
  • Northern Liberties on June 30, 2012

    Northern Liberties by Glenn Vanstrum is a rich concoction of art, medicine and murder set in 1870s Philadelphia. Its unifying element is artist Thomas Eakins’s painting The Gross Clinic. Vanstrum takes the reader into the operating theater and Eakins’s studio, twisting several thematic threads into an interesting and gripping read. He demonstrates an insider’s knowledge of anatomy and surgery, as well as the process of creating an oil painting. A number of historical themes give this book heft and depth. The primary one is the terrible residue of the American Civil War, which informs the choices of the principal characters, real and fictitious. Another is the transition from primitive to modern surgery that resulted from the work of Joseph Lister. From a present-day perspective it’s hard to believe that the adoption of antiseptic procedures was strongly resisted by the medical establishment, but Vanstrum’s book makes that vividly clear. The grisly business of obtaining corpses for scientific dissection adds a macabre touch to the story. The dialogue is tense and realistic, the pacing brisk but not dizzying. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. That it provoked me to learn more about Thomas Eakins and Samuel Gross is a bonus.
  • What She Doesn't Know on July 22, 2012

    I acquired this ebook for free during Read An Ebook Week in March 2012. Its description suggested that it was a mystery, and I was intrigued by the setting – an island in the Bay of Fundy. What She Doesn’t Know is actually romantic suspense. I don’t read a lot in this genre nowadays, which may have coloured my attitude somewhat. The necessary elements of the genre are definitely present – an injured, bereaved and beautiful woman, and a strong, skilled but not altogether trustworthy guy. She (Raven) is identified as a librarian near the beginning, and he (Sloan) tells Raven that he is a university professor and an archaeological expert. But there is almost no mention of these professions afterward. Raven is affected by some form of amnesia, which may explain the paucity of details about her. Sloan’s background is somewhat more developed, but to me both characters remained flat – types rather than real people. The author handles their mutual attraction deftly and with touches of humour. That’s one of the strengths of this book. The other necessary element, that of suspense, is furnished by a gang of bad guys and a shadowy organization called the Protectorate. The gang is trying to find a precious “artifact” whose existence has been revealed to them by Raven’s seemingly dead husband, once a member of the Protectorate. The bad guys are singularly ineffective, hovering in the background until they are needed to deliver a shot of action. More often than not, they quit the scene empty-handed, leaving the two protagonists to speculate as to what they wanted and why they didn’t kill anyone. The plot moves along quickly, sometimes at the expense of the all-important element of suspension of disbelief. The main characters have many discussions/arguments that dance around the central secret of the plot, which cannot be revealed too early. Which is why no one ever asks some logical questions – what is the treasure/artifact supposed to be, and what exactly is the Protectorate? Eventually, the plot is resolved in a fairly satisfying fashion that hints at a sequel. I was disappointed that the setting received fairly short shrift from the author. In my limited experience with romantic suspense, I’ve noticed that often the reader gets a mini-travelogue along with the story, but that is not the case here. The island in the Bay of Fundy could be anywhere in temperate North America. Finally, one error occurred so many times that I am compelled to mention it: the plural possessive of “parent” is “parents’,” not “parent’s.”
  • Gravely Mistaken - Tales of Medicine, Mishaps and Body Snatching in Augusta, Georgia on Sep. 29, 2012

    The author of this book is a long time resident of Augusta, Georgia and has had a long career as a registered nurse. The book is related in a fictional style and includes fictional characters, but there is a substantial amount of history in the 32 chapters. The primary plot involves three students at the Medical College of Georgia in 1854 and an incident of body snatching that spins off into burial and reburial, consternation, anxiety and a dash of romance. Other chapters describe the early years of the Medical College and its founders, as well as significant events in the history of Augusta and of medicine in the South between the 1830s and the 1850s. I acquired this book during Read An Ebook Week in March 2012, when it was available as a free download. I was initially attracted by the subject matter as described in the title because of similarities with my own first novel. For some reason I expected this to be a novel as well, not having taken notice of the word “tales” in the subtitle. As a result I was slightly disconcerted by the digressions from the rather engaging opening chapters into what appeared to be historical essays in Chapters 3 through 6. I kept on reading and was glad I did because those chapters were interesting too, and their relevance to the main story emerged by the time I was half way through the book. Ms. Parks writes in a competent, straightforward style. Her primary characters are vividly rendered, from students to professors, a black man sold as a slave and an Irishwoman desperate to escape from the potato famine with her children. As the story progressed I came to care about them and how things would turn out for them. In a way, these interwoven tales reminded me a little of essays by the medical writer Berton Roueche. Like them, they impart facts in an interesting and entertaining way through clear, straightforward prose. I heartily recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of medicine or life in the antebellum South.
  • Clear Heart on Oct. 08, 2012

    I’m not a guy, and this is definitely a “guy book.” Still, I found it engaging and entertaining. Once I started reading, I realized I had no idea how the book would end and I kept reading to find out. The things I liked best were the details about how the construction business works and the fact that the female characters aren’t physically perfect types. Come to think of it, no one in this book is perfect, physically or otherwise, and that’s part of its charm. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book by a man in which romance was such a significant component; the author certainly has a different take on that aspect than what is found in the usual love story. Altogether a good read, which I would recommend to anyone. I acquired this book as a free download during Read An Ebook Week 2012.
  • Rise Above on Oct. 25, 2012

    Rise Above is a thought-provoking story, beautifully written. It's a narrative of quiet deliberation that ends with a shocking revelation. Thank you, AM Kirby, for making this freely available.
  • He Needed Killing on Nov. 25, 2012

    He Needed Killing is billed as a "cozy mystery," and it's all of that. Retired university tech guy James Crawford has a delightfully relaxed, friendly narrative voice. Having spent some years on university campuses (in Canada)I could relate to the personality types and situations he describes. (In fact I've sometimes wondered why there aren't more murders in academia, given the intense animosities created by the "collegial system"). My main problem with this book is that it's very slow in spots. I don't object to slow books, but there were extensive sections here that seemed to have little relevance to the story -- detailed descriptions of Crawford cooking meals, for example, and a charming essay on barbecues. The denouement, when it comes, is perfectly satisfying. It turns our that our sleuth's grey cells were working out the mystery while he was cooking, socializing with his cat and dog and doing other everyday activities. Looking back I can see a number of details from these scenes that turn out to be clues later on, but all I could think of in these ruminative sections was "When is something going to happen here?" The prose style is clean and straightforward, the voice and setting engaging, but the story bogs down too often. If I could give 3.5 stars I would, but since that's not possible I have to settle on 3.
  • He Needed Killing Too on Dec. 31, 2012

    This is the cleverly titled second novel in the "Needed Killing series by Bill Fitts, featuring James Crawford, a retiree who unexpectedly becomes a private investigator. This time the victim is an unpleasant, rifle-loving fellow who runs the University Press. The story leads readers through the world of academic publishing and the personalities associated with it, some of whom are suspects and one who turns out to be the murderer. Like the first book, this is a leisurely yet engrossing read. Occasional diversions into topics such as food, football and firearms, along with the intricacies of campus computer networks and relational databases add texture and interest.
  • Let Fall Thy Blade on Feb. 04, 2013

    Impressed by this author’s book Northern Liberties, I was eager to read more by him. Let Fall Thy Blade did not disappoint. The first part of the book, which shows the central character’s driven life as a heart surgeon, is totally gripping. Vanstrum demonstrates an insider’s knowledge of what goes on in the operating theater and in the surgeon’s mind. Once the Hartford family is in Africa, viewing wildlife and gaining insights into Maasai culture, I found a certain degree of disconnection from Malcolm Hartford. Granted, he’s on vacation, but I expected him to mentally link up his African experiences with his career, in which he seemed totally immersed. But things definitely pick up once the Hartfords are kidnapped by poachers and Malcolm faces crisis after crisis before the ambiguous and poignant conclusion.
  • A Dream of Death (Detective Lincoln Munroe, Book 1) on Nov. 02, 2013

    The strength of this book is the author's inside knowledge of police procedures and what it's like to be a cop. In the middle of a serial murder investigation, the main character, Lincoln Munroe, has to deal with nightmares and a host of personal issues. All these elements work together to produce a gripping read. The ending is only partially resolved, which creates a reason to check out the other books in the series.
  • Along the Shores of Lake Superior on Feb. 21, 2015

    Considering I have never been to Lake Superior or any of the places described in the book, I found these accounts of trips in the early part of the 20th century quite interesting. The author`s enthusiasm for the outdoors really comes through.
  • The Augur on March 07, 2015

    An interesting take on one of the significant dates in history that most people know. It's narrated in an engaging manner by a member of an outsider group in Rome in the dying years of the Republic -- an Etruscan who is hired by individuals to foretell the future. The author of this short work has done a good job of combining nostalgia with a sense of doom.
  • A Good Clean, A Harsh Clean on March 07, 2015

    This story is, well, harsh. It's a well-written tour through some pretty ugly territory. After reading it I felt the need for a literary palate-cleanser. "Dark, edgy and noir," just like the description says.
  • Pikesville Junction on Feb. 14, 2016

    Good story. I found the episode with the elephant bizarre and sad, but otherwise it read like an old-fashioned "family friendly" movie or TV show. But be warned -- the part about the elephant is shocking.
  • Short Stories, Crimes, Cults and Curious Cats on July 20, 2016

    I was attracted to this book by its cover, which is certainly spiffy. A curlicue dragon and a very strange looking cat face. This collection of ten stories by UK author Jonathan Day features "crimes, cults and curious cats," as its subtitle proclaims, but it also has a lot of cops. Almost every story includes someone who is a PC, DC, DS, DI or DCI, and often more than one of these ranks is present. The sincere and straightforward tone of these stories cleverly conceals occasional subtle social commentary. Several of the detectives featured are women and a few are from ethnic minorities. The primary characters are sympathetic and distinct. Dialogue is lively and sometimes quite funny. Every one of these stories is engaging and most are thoroughly satisfying.
  • The Skin of the Gods on July 26, 2016

    The Skin of the Gods is packed with intriguing elements -- ancient artifacts (an amulet, two rings, a golden box, a book and a Lemurian crystal), secret societies, portals and a rogue spirit. The action zips around chronologically and geographically, from the 1890s to the present day, to ancient Egypt and back to the present. Scenes take place in a Yorkshire village, in London, Egypt, Hong Kong, Amsterdam, Cologne and even in a Tim Horton's coffee shop in Burlington, Ontario! A few key scenes take the reader to the Duat, the Egyptian underworld. There is a dizzying array of characters, but the principal ones are Beth Martindale, her fiance Matt (who disappears in Chapter 3), Paul Smith, a 19th-century Englishman, and the Egyptian pharaoh Narmer and his wife Queen Nithotep. Many others come and go as needed to move the plot along. The characters are motivated by the classic themes of rivalry, bitter hatred, desire for revenge, and love. Once the various plot elements are introduced and the time shifts start to make sense, the story becomes fairly compelling. I was happy to follow Beth's search for Matt, and the transitions of the artifacts of power from their creation to their ultimate fate, as they become objects of desire and pass through various hands, affecting the characters along the way. Getting to that point was a bit of a slog, however, because the author provides a good deal of extraneous information, often describing someone or something several different ways within a single paragraph. Historical background information makes an intrusive appearance in a few places. Beth Martindale's quirk of reciting quotations adds a touch of humour, but in situations of distress or urgency it's contrived and irritating. There are problems with apostrophes, a few awkward usages (such as "stout in stature," and "tenants" instead of "tenets") and unnecessary capitalization of some words, such as "Beagle" (the dog breed). Because of these problems, I almost gave up reading within the first 50 pages, but persistence resulted in a fairly entertaining reading experience.
  • The Musings of an Old Man on Sep. 02, 2016

    Thoughtful musings expressed in verse, from the perspective of a lifetime's experience. Worth reading and pondering.
  • We Are Toten Herzen on Sep. 24, 2016

    The narrative swirls from place to place and decade to decade. A scene in which the reader is closeted with the band members (three formidable women and one understated guy), is followed by a flurry of tweets and news reports. Twenty-first century music biz honchos have to work out a modus operandi with folks from the 1970s who are pretty touchy about criticism and have their own ways of getting things done — ways that aren’t always pretty. Then there are flashbacks to the band members’ origins and the forces that created Toten Herzen. Rumors abound and tension builds as the first concert of the comeback tour approaches. Harrison creates memorable scenes with masterly prose and what seems to be a thorough knowledge of the music business. I have to say, I didn’t find the characters terribly likable (they’re definitely not “sparkly” vampires), but they are certainly not cardboard cutouts. Rob Wallet, sometime journalist and general hanger-on, is an odd duck. He has clearly thrown in his lot with the band, but isn’t really “of” them. For the reader, he serves as a point of view character, furnishing “insider” views of the secretive, night-loving band. An interesting read, even for those who aren't fans of vampires.
  • The Screaming Sword on Dec. 15, 2016

    This is the first book in the Song of Narne fantasy series, intended for young adults, but entirely suitable for not-so-young adults as well. The necessary elements of classic fantasy are present — a perilous quest in a land of mountains and plains, an old, dangerous city, a lost empire, an ancient library, a wandering people who hold a tradition of prophecy, an artifact of power. And characters of all kinds — soldiers, thieves, assassins, merchants, magicians both good and evil. And cats. Cats are more than incidentals in these stories; they take an active role in furthering the plot. The story centres around the young mage Kenrad and his faithful companion, reformed thief Blumgar the Fat. Kenrad must contend with a tragic loss in his childhood, and the development of powers he neither fully understands nor controls. He carries an artifact of power which is, unbeknownst to him, sought by an evil magician. Blumgar is always at Kenrad’s side to protect him from dangers and to ground him in the earthy matters of life — food and drink, companionship and humour. Three over-arching elements become evident as one reads — the peril of magic, the Song of Narne, and a mental discipline necessary to those who seek knowledge and understanding. Magic isn’t simple or easy in these books; it is elusive, perhaps damaged, and feared by most. The Song of Narne emanates from nature, and when perceived and interpreted by skilled women called Listeners, it may reveal the future. The Listeners employ a meditation technique called Omeras to connect with the Song. The principal characters, and many of the secondary ones, are fully developed, realistic and memorable. Their interactions are conveyed in lively dialogue, often presenting essential information about the world they inhabit and its history. It’s easy to feel at home in this world, and engaged with its peoples. Ordinary, non-magical activities of trade and commerce, travel and camping, strategy and the use of arms are worked into the plot in ways that are interesting and informative. Fitts carefully crafts each scene to introduce settings, situations and groups of characters, moving from place to place, but clearly building up a mosaic which becomes increasingly complex and interesting. The reader is never at risk of losing track of the plot threads or becoming confused. The author has supplied an extensive glossary of characters, places and concepts. In the best fantasy tradition, there is a map of the lands in which the books take place, but I found it a little hard to read the place names on my e-reader. Displayed on a computer screen, it was perfectly legible. A direct link to the map in the table of contents would help a reader easily find it when needed. (A colour version of the map is available on the author’s website). Fans of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis will enjoy this books and hope for more.
  • Sokhal's Star on Dec. 15, 2016

    This book continues the story begun in The Screaming Sword, set in the same vividly rendered world with the same memorable characters. As Kenrad and Blumgar advance into peril, stirrings of change are seen in other parts of the land, mobilizing both good and evil. The dramatic conclusion does not resolve all the plot threads, however, suggesting there are more books to anticipate.
  • The Girl and the Crocodile : Crocodile Spirit Dreaming Complete Series on April 22, 2017

    A compelling story, told with sincerity. It would make a good plot for a television mini-series! The first book sets up an intriguing situation that is played out at length in the subsequent four books, whose quality for the most part does not achieve the same levels. The complexities of the plot are narrated more like a fictional biography than a novel. There are a lot of small typos and punctuation problems, but they may have been corrected in the subsequent revised versions. Vivid descriptions of Australia's remote places are a definite highlight.
  • Out of Focus on Aug. 10, 2017

    A thriller of the “woman discovers her husband’s secrets after his death” type. Strangely, the reader is informed of the secrets early in the book, so the primary source of tension is when and how Morgan will discover them. Details about flying commercial airplanes, shooting photographs and processing film are interesting, and there are some suspenseful episodes, but the ending is rushed and unsatisfying. The many metaphors and similes used to describe Morgan’s green eyes distracted me from the plot.
  • Baiting & Fishing on Aug. 10, 2017

    Middle-aged reporter Ray Bailey is easy to like and sympathize with, as what starts out a potential big story turns into a charming romance. The vanishing lifestyle of Gulf Coast Florida is a big feature of this book — especially fishing, eating fish, and more fishing. Turns out Ray’s mystery woman is a whiz at fishing, and really rich, and great-looking. And a bunch of other things as well, some of them not so good. Kept me reading, and wondering.
  • The Eternal Librarian on Aug. 10, 2017

    The description pretty much sums it up. A short story with a sincere message.
  • The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars, Part One: Eagle Ascendant on Aug. 10, 2017

    Combining hard science fiction with a heartfelt coming-of-age story, this is an engrossing read. Much of its appeal for me was the methodically constructed society in which it is set. By the 28th century, human beings have learned a hard lesson. After a nuclear war several hundred years before, there is a democratic world government, no military forces, and an economic system that looks like a benign form of communism. Organized religion has faded into the background, superseded by a set of Precepts created by mysterious persons referred to as the Mythmakers. Geographic names and concepts have changed, but not beyond recognition. Space travel within the solar system is highly developed, carried out by an organization whose structure and culture is reminiscent of present-day navies. The main character, Robbin Nikalishin, grows up in this world, experiencing family problems, school days, friendships, and love affairs. He is drawn to a cutting-edge space exploration program based on temporal quantum theory. This fictional science sounded plausible to me, but then, my understanding of actual quantum physics is practically nil. Step by step, the story builds to a gripping climax, ending with an irresistible situation that compels one to read Part Two. I am not a real fan of the SF genre, but I can heartily recommend this book.
  • The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars, Part Two: Wounded Eagle on Aug. 10, 2017

    Exploring the causes and consequences of the catastrophe that ends Part One, this book is slower but equally interesting. The focus is less on technology and more on psychology, as Robbin Nikalishin recovers from the traumatic events that conclude Part One. In fact, this book is almost entirely about human relationships and the way they are affected by tragedy. Two important relationships – an old one and a new one – remain unresolved by the end of the book, along with the question of Captain Robbie's return to the stars. I gather a third book is yet to come.
  • Dreaming in a Digital World on Aug. 14, 2017

    You might call this book Can-lit chick-lit. It's like a long session with a female friend unburdening herself over drinkies. Gen Varley is a whiz at computer programming, but don't look for a lot of tech here. Yes, there are references to computers and the programming thereof, but it's 1980s vintage, and somehow never sounds like it's coming from an insider. No matter, though -- the stuff about relationships (workplace, family, friendships, sex, and love) are explored in detail, with a good deal of witty dialogue and amusing but sometimes rather arch observations by the first-person narrator. There are three timelines -- present, past, and distant past. The present occupies a minuscule fraction of the whole, but the two pasts are closely intertwined, and not always easy to distinguish from one another. As advertised by the title, dreams form a substantial part of the narrative. I admit I found reading this book to be quite an irritating experience until about the halfway mark, when the thread pattern began to make sense and I discerned where things were headed. The ending has a fairy-tale quality to it, which, while somewhat unexpected, wraps things up warmly and fuzzily.
  • Vengeance Is Mine (An Emily O'Brien novel #1) on Aug. 28, 2017

    The combination of engaging main character and moderately complex mystery kept me interested. Another factor was the true-to-life details about working on a newspaper, both the routine and dramatic aspects. That gave the book a richness and heft that would not be achievable from research alone. The Christian element is subtle and adds to the overall reading experience. I've bought the second book in the series and am well into reading it.
  • Transhumance on Jan. 04, 2018

    Thoughtful stories that left me thinking and wondering. Speculative fiction, for sure.
  • The Marc Edwards Mystery Series Box Set on Feb. 11, 2018

    This set of six books from the author's Marc Edwards Mystery Series could be called history with a side of mystery, or possibly the reverse, but I decided the former is more accurate. The underlying element is Canadian history, specifically the period from 1839 to 1841, during which the foundations of what the author terms "responsible government" were laid. A key element of this was the alliance between the English Reformers of Upper Canada and the French Rouge party of Lower Canada. This is the history. The mystery element is added with fictional events that (if real) would have threatened or foiled the historical process. Several of the recurring characters in these stories are actual historical figures, but Marc Edwards and Constable (eventually Detective Constable) Horatio Cobb are fictitious. Their investigations add a lively and often interesting human element. Cobb in particular is an amusing figure, with his habit of apt malapropisms and determination to uncover the truth by creative means. On the whole, I enjoyed this collection. In addition to the entertaining whodunits and courtroom dramas, I was moved to read up on some of the history of Canada that I had forgotten or (I admit) was unaware of. A worthwhile reading experience, altogether. Note that these stories fall in the middle of the series, so references to earlier books may be slightly mystifying. Readers familiar with the geography of Toronto would probably have a better appreciation of some details than those unfamiliar with this city.
  • The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars, Part Three: Bird of Prey on Feb. 11, 2018

    This is the third part of the biographical novel about spacefarer Robbin Nikalishin. It continues the interweaving of a life story with science fiction in a post-dystopian setting. Focussing as it does on Robbie's courtship and marriage, its emphasis is once more on the personal and psychological, rather than on travels into space. An exception is a trip to the Mars colony, which I found intensely interesting and quite plausible. Only near the end is the topic of quantum space travel reintroduced, which makes me eager to read the next book. In the meantime, the Captain's romantic ructions and persistent psychological demons make for an entertaining and absorbing read.
  • The Terror of Moreton Island on Feb. 28, 2018

    I picked up this book because of the intriguing description. In part, the story lives up to its advertising. The author creates a true sense of dread and imminent horror. He also presents a vivid picture of a wild and beautiful landscape on an Australian island. The reader is given a graphic picture of the "terror," and there are hints of something even more terrifying. But a lot of plot elements are left unresolved, and the whole thing reads more like a teaser than a complete novel, even a short one. Hence my 3-star rating, although 3.5 is more accurate.
  • The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars, Part Four: Survivor on March 29, 2018

    With the illness and death of his mother, Capt. Robbin Nikalishin enters a truly dark period that tests his character to the utmost. I found the fourth volume in this fictitious biography to be almost as absorbing as the first. Watching Capt. Robbie dealing with one agonizing failure after another, and wondering how he will struggle back from the depths was like reading a thriller, except the conflicts take place largely around committee room tables and within the mind and heart of the central character. The plot affords fascinating glimpses into the science and society of a 28th century Earth rebuilding after an apocalyptic war. Readers not acquainted with the Captain's story would do well to get Book 1 and prepare for an interesting journey into a plausible future world with an engaging protagonist.
  • They Needed Killing on May 22, 2018

    This sixth book in the Needed Killing series takes the reader on a twisty trip through Shelbyville and its university with James F. Crawford, private eye. Two unscrupulous individuals need killing this time, and figuring out who did the deeds presents Crawford with an intricate puzzle. Familiar characters are joined by several new ones with interesting backgrounds and memorable attitudes. There is a distinctly aquatic theme to the story. Even Crawford's cat, The Black, develops a fascination with water. I heartily recommend this book to fans of cozy mysteries.
  • A Sinister Six: A Collection of Six Darkly Disturbing Stories on June 25, 2018

    The theme of this collection might be ordinary people faced with horrifying, confounding, or puzzling situations. "Die, Blossom, Bloom" and "A Snap of the Fingers" are the best of these, taking their characters to places of bleak despair. "The Girl in the Park," "The Photograph," and "The Book" are weird but less horrifying. "I'm Watching You" combines the depressing grind of everyday life with a disturbing manifestation that leads to violence. "Spongebob" unfolds an ordinary outing – a man taking his young son to a movie – but each brief segment, placed between other stories in the collection, presents details that ramp up the tension. On the whole, I enjoyed the stories, although the situations in which the characters find themselves are more memorable than the characters themselves.
  • Puppeteer on July 28, 2018

    The author calls this "realistic science fiction." That is quite accurate, although it might also be called a thriller. A "techno-thriller," even, because technology takes a central role in the plot. However, this plot is not the usual rollercoaster page-turner. It's set in what seems to be the near future, with social, economic, and political situations that are realistic projections from our present time. The prose is clear and workmanlike, but by no means artful or elegant. Miller sets up the situation, introduces the characters, and takes them through the reasoning and actions necessary to deal with the circumstances. Reasoning is an important element in this story. The characters think before they act. They don't have superhuman abilities, although at times I thought John Maxwell was a little too lucky. The ending is full of tension and excitement worthy of any thriller. The last few chapters are indeed page-turners. The characters are sufficiently developed to do the jobs required of them. Most of them demonstrate a subtle sense of humour at times. A bonus is that parts of the novel are set on the Kerguelen Islands, a place I knew nothing about until I read Puppeteer. Readers who appreciate books that make you think would appreciate this one.
  • Frankly Speaking - A Frank Rozzani Detective Novel (#1) on Aug. 29, 2018

    I liked the basic premise behind this mystery--ex-cop PI with a troubled past rebuilding his life in Florida with a dog and jazz gigs at a local eatery. Frank is a sympathetic character, and his developing not-quite-romance with veterinarian Nancy adds a nice touch of romance. The case itself presents a few twists, with one rather nice red herring. I did think that Frank and Jonesy get way too many lucky breaks in carrying out their investigation, in part because Jonesy's capabilities border on the superhuman. Those quibbles aside, Frankly Speaking is an engaging book that kept me reading.
  • The Termite Queen: Volume One: The Speaking of the Dead on Aug. 29, 2018

    This is a multi-dimensional and ambitious work. Set in the 30th century, it features several species of non-human intelligent life forms, including giant termites. Even more, the author has invented languages for these life forms, and uses them liberally throughout. These may be limiting characteristics, but The Termite Queen is eminently readable, with clear, coherent prose and careful pacing. The scenes within the termite fortress, involving only termite characters, are written rather like scenes from a play, and indeed the sub-plot involving these creatures resembles a Shakespearean drama. The primary termite characters are distinct and memorable, although their intricate names took a bit of getting used to. Kaitrin Oliva, the linguistic anthropologist, is a sympathetic character. Her part of the story involves both her academic interests and the development of a significant personal relationship. Important background details of the future society in which the story is set are artfully conveyed in a way that enhances the reading experience. Volume One is an absorbing read because of the clever combination of familiar human story elements with boldly original ones. I have to admit I was hesitant to read this book (even though I've read and enjoyed several others by this author) because it involves termites. Big bugs. How could a book featuring big bugs be anything but off-putting? I'm happy to say it's not so, and I'm glad I decided to read The Termite Queen.
  • The Termite Queen: Volume Two: The Wound That Has No Healing on Aug. 29, 2018

    The elements that made Volume One an excellent read continue in Volume Two. The ending is satisfying and sets up a new series featuring two of the termite characters. The primary focus of this volume, however, is Kaitrin Oliva's recovery from the traumatic events that conclude Volume One. This process involves revisiting many of the events of the first book from a psychological point of view. At times I felt the story bogged down in these details. However, there are some intriguing aspects, including an interweaving of ancient Welsh mythology with the 30th century tragedy. To be precise, I would assign 4.5 stars and call this another great read.
  • A Summer in Amber on Jan. 11, 2019

    This book is described by its author as a science fiction novel of adventure and romance. It's set in a world whose technology is a mixture of the 19th and 21st centuries as a result of solar storms and an unstable sun. People dress in antiquated outfits but carry devices called "watsons" that resemble smart phones. Transportation is by rail, bicycle, foot, and horse, with a few relic petrol-fueled cars and ultralight electric vehicles. Depopulation has resulted in empty countrysides, with houses repurposed as animal shelters. The world, especially in the highlands of Scotland where the story takes place, has been rewilded. This aspect of the novel is captivating and Romantic in the literary sense. Sandy Say is an engaging character, as is his personal situation -- a physicist with a new PhD, hired by a humorless industrialist to do a top secret summer job in an enchanting locale. Sandy is carrying a torch for an ex-girlfriend, but gradually (very gradually) acquires a new torch for the daughter of the humorless industrialist. This relationship develops during a lot (and I mean a LOT) of scenes featuring fly-fishing and bicycle riding. One fishing/biking scene is succeeded by another, taking up at least half the book. I like slow-burn stories with an intriguing premise, but I have to say I found these repetitious scenes a bit trying. But the intriguing premise -- an abandoned laboratory that may actually be a gate to the Otherworld, intense lightning storms, St. Elmo's fire, a scientific secret in a dead engineer's notes, and the possibility that said engineer had been transformed into some sort of electrically charged wizard. That was what kept me reading, long after the charming but lukewarm romance palled. I found the use of tense to be somewhat unstable in spots, shifting from past to present and back again within a paragraph. I suspect the author's original idea may have been to write the novel in the form of a journal kept by Say, but then shifting to a past tense narrative and forgetting to adjust the parts that read like a journal.
  • Fathers and Demons; Glimpses of the Future on Jan. 20, 2019

    This book certainly fulfills the author's intent to write books that make readers think. It belongs with the set featuring spacefarer Robbin Nikalishin, but it isn't really about him. Robbie's role here is to ask questions, lots of them. While attending a Jewish wedding, he and several others engage in several long conversations about religious customs and symbols, and eternal questions about God. Inevitably, the reader learns a great deal about 28th century Judaism. Yes, 28th century -- that's when these stories are set. Part of their attraction for me is the fictional history devised by Taylor, and that's certainly true of this one. Not being Jewish, I can't comment as to the accuracy of the information (even allowing for the 700 years that haven't yet happened), but the author does provide links to several sites where the interested reader may check and learn more. There is little action and adventure in this book. People talk, wonder, question, argue, get angry, calm down, reconcile, and talk some more. Everyone (including the reader) learns something, but readers who don't find the matters discussed to be interesting may be disappointed. There is another narrative thread in the book, introduced about two thirds of the way through. It features Ian Glencrosse, the Engineer on the imminent mission to the stars of which Robbie is Captain. He is haunted by a space demon that may or may not be real. His way of dealing with it includes attempts at reconciliation with his estranged parents. There is considerable tension and interpersonal drama in this part of the book, which I have to admit I found more gripping than the rest. Ian's conclusion about his demon makes me hope that Lorinda Taylor soon publishes the next part of his and Robbie's story.
  • The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head: Volume One: The War of the Stolen Mother on March 19, 2019

    This is an absorbing adventure story with a unique premise: intelligent termites on a planet far from ours, whose experiences, emotions, and interactions are as engaging as those of human characters. I admit I hesitated to read this series, even though I've read and enjoyed other books by Lorinda J. Taylor. The idea of spending reading time with huge fictional insects was off-putting. I got over this by reading The Termite Queen, a pair of books set on that planet with human as well as termite characters. In fact, because this first of the Ki'shto'ba books lacks any human characters (although some are mentioned peripherally), the reader doesn't see the termites through human eyes. Relating to them purely as personalities, I almost forgot they were insects, except when references were made to body parts and anatomy not possessed by humans. Taylor uses entomological terms for most of these, so readers have to get used to words such as "palps," "clypeus," and "hemolymph." This makes sense because it avoids a whole lot of invented words that would be just as unfamiliar but couldn't be easily looked up in common sources. That reminds me of another aspect of this fascinating book -- Taylor's invented termite language. It's not just random "alien" sounding terms; it's every bit as structured as Tolkien's languages. Meanings of words are supplied within the text, and after a while I was able to discern patterns, which enriched the reading experience. Taylor must have done an enormous amount of research on terrestrial termites to represent their societies, castes, reproduction, diet, and other aspects. To this she has added intelligence equivalent to that of humans and a consequent technology and culture, but she doesn't cross the line into anthropomorphism. The characters aren't humans in termite suits; reading about them was a learning experience I probably wouldn't have had otherwise. The plot involves a small group of individuals undertaking a great journey and the adventures they encounter. The primary one involves a lengthy war between different communities, complete with scenes of combat, trickery, and destruction. Eventually the reader will recognize familiar themes and character types, and a mental light bulb will light up. That's only one of the happy surprises within this clever and entertaining book. I'm definitely looking forward to reading the rest of the books in this series.
  • 'Bot War on March 25, 2019

    Not many books are described as financial or economic thrillers; those terms seem to be self-contradictory. But they precisely describe 'Bot War, which is also a perfect example of speculative fiction. What if a country's economy became so dysfunctional that key parts of society just didn't work any more? What if terrorists took advantage of that and of robot technology that made it possible to attack major infrastructure? What kinds of people would be successful in this situation and what would they do? Ian J. Miller presents a multitude of scenarios -- meetings, surveillance, and combat -- that attempt to answer these questions. There is a multitude of characters as well, of which a handful emerge as the good guys. They are characterized more by their skills and actions than by emotions or personal quirks. In each scenario the author outlines what is at stake and what options the players have to achieve a desirable outcome, whether that is obtaining information, disabling robotic weapons, or just staying alive. Despite this almost didactic approach, there are almost no dull moments. In fact, there is a great deal of violence in this book. People are killed, singly or en masse, things are blown up or otherwise destroyed. The almost clinical descriptions of these events makes them more interesting than shocking. Each one is followed by a scene in which John Maxwell and those he works with assess the situation and plan their next moves. It's quite amazing how much chaos is created and what emerges from it. Readers who care to will find logical approaches to problem solving and leadership amid the fictional events. Altogether, 'Bot War is an unusual book, but one that leaves a reader with a lot to think about.
  • The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head: Volume Two: The Storm-Wing on April 19, 2019

    The best thing about this book (and the first and third in the series) is the blending of themes familiar to humans (curiosity, courage, fear, friendship, rivalry) with a fictional world and characters who are not humans. The first element is engaging and relatable, the second fascinating. As Ki'shto'ba and its Companions continue their journey, they encounter Sshi (termite people) communities whose cultures, languages, and diets are different from theirs. The details of these differences and the way the themes play out within the group of by now familiar characters is interesting, entertaining, and thrilling. This is a first-rate read.
  • The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head: Volume Three: The Valley of Thorns on April 19, 2019

    In this third book of the Ki'shto'ba series, things become grim and even tragic. Think War and Peace, because war is the main theme here, along with treachery, death, and madness. Again I give credit to the author, Lorinda J. Taylor, for creating a story about giant extraterrestrial bugs that engaged me thoroughly and had me dreading what might happen to members of the band of Companions as they struggle to cope with a destructive and futile war. The reader will inevitably think of parallels in the human world. Prepare to cheer, weep, and cheer again!
  • The Earth Shrugged on May 20, 2019

    At the beginning of this book, Chad, the hero, sets off to explore the world beyond his village. In a post-apocalyptic North America, humans live in small villages several days' walk distant from one another. Young Chad is a Scribe, meaning one who can read the books remaining from the Before Time, which may be the present of the 21st century. In his wanderings, Chad discovers sites of the Before Time and collects artifacts of unknown use as items to barter. I found this to be one of the most intriguing aspects of the book -- descriptions of things such as cell phones or light bulbs, whose nature was mysterious to a person of the future time. The main thrust of the story is making and sustaining community. Chad interacts with a number of village groups and with other wanderers. He makes decisions and does things that result in the formation and growth of a new village. People meet, interact, marry, have children, invent tools, read books, and solve a variety of problems. Remnant technology from the Before Time causes a crisis demanding drastic choices by Chad, leading to an eventual resolution. It's clear that the author's main focus is showing Chad's capabilities and quietly heroic personality. Many pages are devoted to how he thinks and feels. He is the main point of view character, although the author occasionally dips into other characters' heads to present their views of Chad and his deeds. Most of the active characters are men: Chad, his two main friends Theo and Leon; Michael, who is the focus of a conflict about half way through the book, and Simon, Chad's father in law. The female characters, notably Chad's wife Marie, are surprisingly passive. They happily cook, make, wash and mend clothes, bear children, and support their men. An initiative to extend apprenticeships in writing or crafts such as pottery making to girls comes not from any girl or woman, but from Chad and his male supporters. I was attracted to this book by the idea of humans rebuilding civilization from scratch, avoiding the errors of the Before Time. In a way, the situation is reminiscent of Stephen King's The Stand, but without any hint of the supernatural and with far less tension. The author's purpose is sincere and heartfelt, but there isn't enough topography in the plot to sustain interest over more than 100,000 words. The instances of conflict and danger are relatable, but the solutions come too quickly and without much cost to Chad. The post-apocalyptic world is minimally described. Animals are mentioned, but seem strangely distant and cooperative. Everyone speaks the same language; accents and dialects are not mentioned. People wear shirts, pants, and dresses, but it wasn't clear to me how they made textiles. Spirituality consists of honouring the Earth, and there is a code of ethics and courtesies for human interactions that seems to be the same for everyone. That uniformity seems unlikely in a setting of small, isolated groups. I suppose these details were peripheral to the author's purpose, so it may be unfair of me to note them, but I kept wondering about them as I read. I also noted numerous errors involving apostrophes to indicate possession.
  • The WAG and The Scoundrel on May 27, 2019

    The first few chapters of this book was like being at a party where I didn't know anybody and everyone else there were best friends from way back. Once I didn't have to figure out where every new character fit in relation to the rest, the story was easier to follow. Even so, the murder at the start of the book seemed secondary to the personal relationships, family situations, and past histories of the three main characters, Gray, Will, and Rob. These individuals are real, distinctive, and interesting, as they bob and weave around each other. I wouldn't call this book a mystery, and not really a romance either. What kept me reading was the question of how the characters' relationships would develop and who they would end up with at the end. I can't say I was disappointed, even though the big crisis scene was a bit lame. I wouldn't recommend this book to lovers of whodunits, but it may engage readers who enjoy character development.
  • The Cavalier of the Apocalypse on June 02, 2019

    I almost abandoned this book after reading the first few pages because the smells and other repulsive details of a poor area of 18th century Paris were rendered altogether too well. Fortunately, I gave it a second chance and was treated to an interesting murder mystery with engaging characters and a colourful (in all senses of the word) setting. The author clearly knows a lot about the French Revolution and what led up to it, and effectively incorporates historical material into this work of fiction. She does this most often in dialogue, and only occasionally do her characters slip into a semi-lecturing mode for the reader's benefit. Still, with the Diamond Necklace Affair, Freemasonry, and the reader's knowledge of what will be happening in a few years, this book is both entertaining and informative.
  • The Mostly Forgotten Memoirs of Rose Red on June 11, 2019

    This book is one of the author's "Fairytale Memoirs," meaning an adaptation of the tale of Snow White and Rose Red. The first part follows the tale quite closely, but after the ungrateful dwarf is dispatched, things take off in a new direction, with plenty of twists and turns before the end. The best part of the book is the narrative voice of Rose Red, candid and full of humour, with plenty of snarky observations about other characters. There is a fair bit of what struck me as silliness, but that may be because I'm not really part of the target audience. Still, I generally enjoyed the tale, although words such as "genetics," "contact" (as in send word to), and "body language" seemed out of place in the fairy tale world.
  • The Man Who Found Birds Among the Stars, Part Five: Phenix Rises on June 25, 2019

    Returning to this fictional biography was like a reunion with old friends. For the first two-thirds of the book, a rehabilitated Captain Nikalishin prepares to take on his new role as commander of the first ship to visit the stars. He ties up loose ends, moves to a new home, and undertakes a round the world journey to discover which of his old comrades would like to join him in the renewed enterprise. This trip presents opportunities for fleshing out the history of different parts of the world in the centuries preceding the 28th, a dark and violent time in which humanity almost destroyed itself. Already fascinated by the renewed human civilization and its values, I found these background details interesting. The richness of the fictional world in which this story plays out is one of the strengths of this series of novels. As those in charge of the Phenix Project build a crew for the enterprise and begin intensive training, a worrying issue emerges that casts a shadow I'm sure will play out as Robbie's life story continues. The book ends with a jolt that absolutely demands resolution. I hope Part Six appears soon! Note: anyone who hasn't read Parts One through Four really ought to do that first. The life story of this 28th century hero is absorbing and entertaining, and should be read in chronological order.
  • The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head: Volume Four: Beneath the Mountain of Heavy Fear on Aug. 03, 2019

    One of the things I liked best about reading this book was gradually becoming aware of the parallels between this epic tale of termite adventurers and similar tales and legends from human culture. To offer specifics would be to spoil the effect for future readers, so I'll say no more. This slice of the greater story features a dark descent followed by an episode of clever mischief. Two new characters add their distinct personalities to the mix as the group figures out how to deal with a number of puzzles and challenges. As in the previous books, prophecies are fulfilled but succeeded by fresh prognostications that keep the questing Companions (and the reader) wondering about the unknown events yet to come.
  • The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head: Volume Five: The Wood Where the Two Moons Shine on Aug. 03, 2019

    As the end of the series approaches, the prophecies that inspire and guide Ki'shto'ba and its Companions become increasingly serious and significant. In this book, one major goal of the quest is fulfilled as the group reaches the southern sea, but another looms on the horizon. An evil character dies but leaves behind a troubling gift. At the same time, the Companions experience fascinating new ideas, inventions, customs, and foods. After five substantial books, I am still enthralled with this world and its inhabitants. I wish the journey could continue indefinitely, and I have to say I dread its ending.
  • The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head: Volume Six: The Revenge of the Dead Enemy on Oct. 02, 2019

    Having read the other five books of the Ki'shto'ba series, I'm happy to say this final volume maintained the quality of its predecessors. In addition to thrilling adventures and well-developed characters who have become "book friends," is added an element of sorrow and tragedy as Ki'shto'ba's story reaches its end. Again, I heartily recommend the entire series (read in order) to readers who appreciate an epic tale eloquently told, with themes that resonate in real human life. I never would have believed that a long story about extraterrestrial bugs with peculiar names would have engaged and moved me to the extent that all these books have. I salute Lorinda J. Taylor as a master storyteller (or perhaps she might prefer Remembrancer). P.S.: there's a sequel to the series, which I'm planning to read asap.
  • The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head, The Sequel: The Buried Ship at the End of the World on Oct. 09, 2019

    I was glad to see this sequel, because the final volume of the main series was full of losses and endings. "But what about the Quest?" I asked. Do they ever find the Golden Fungus, or is it just a metaphor for the unreachable goal? And what about the wily and inventive Za'dut, who was swept away from its companions in Book 6? Well, this book answers those questions and sends the survivors into the unknown future. It also updates the reader on the visitors from Earth introduced in The Termite Queen, where this long and absorbing story begins. I know I'll be happily revisiting this world again in re-reads. Readers looking for adventure, engaging characters, and old stories presented in a new way can't go wrong with the Ki'shto'ba series.
  • The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars, Part Six: Merlin on Dec. 27, 2019

    The sixth part of this biographical fiction, and we're deep into the life story of spacefarer Robbin Nikalishin. In this book, temporal quantum flight resumes at last, for the first time since the disaster that ended Part 1. Part 6, therefore, is largely concerned with preparations for the Big Mission to the stars -- recruiting a crew, team building, training, testing, and dealing with a multiplicity of issues. Tech is a big part of this, of course, and I was impressed by how realistically it's described (but then, I'm not a physicist or engineer!) One thing I really like about all these books is that even though they are hard science fiction, the tech is delivered in digestible form and complemented with human issues anyone can relate to. A subplot involving one of the Darter survivors deals with religion and its place in the new world of the 28th century, especially the conflict that arises from faith-based convictions. As the date of the Big Mission approaches, tension builds, reaching fever pitch in the final chapters. Personal issues add to it, in particular Robbie's broken marriage and his conflicted feelings about his estranged wife, Fedaylia. An even more troubling element is his Chief Engineer, Ian Glencrosse, and his irrational conviction that the mission is doomed unless he takes drastic action. The book ends with a convergence of these issues at the very brink of humanity's ascent to the stars. I can't wait for Part 7! While I enthusiastically recommend this book to any reader who enjoys adept and thoughful writing, I suggest anyone new to this multi-volume work start with Part 1 and prepare for a long and fascinating experience.
  • Vespasian Moon's Fabulous Autumn Carnival on Jan. 10, 2020

    Another fun, Halloween-inspired short read from Berthold Gambrel. The two main characters, Agent Jane Raczyck and Sheriff Sixtus Davis, are a bit rough hewn, but improve as the story progresses. The plot elements -- small town, Halloween carnival, weird goings-on, and sinister local supertitions -- merge to a satisfying climax for all parties. There are regular shots of humour and the adult situations never cross the line of discretion. And the cover is a work of art!
  • The Man Who Found Birds Among the Stars, Part Seven: Fifth Island in the River on March 17, 2020

    This is the seventh part of the fictional biography of 28th century spacefarer Robbin Nikalishin. It's every bit as gripping and exciting as the very first book. No, actually it's even more so, because in this book, the long-anticipated voyage to the stars actually happens. The first third of the book shows Capt. Robbie and his crew launch into space and settle in to shipboard routines in a long series of temporal quantum jumps and intervals that eventually take them to the vicinity of the star Epsilon Eridani. The only shadow on this optimistic beginning is the secretly delusional state of Chief Engineer Ian Glencrosse. Otherwise, we have a multicultural storytelling session, hormone-driven hijinks, birthday celebrations, and even a wedding. I laughed out loud at some scenes and was moved to tears at others. Many of the crew members are familiar personalities from the earlier books, so it's easy to relate to them as they interact and become an extended family. Things get serious when part of the ship's engine malfunctions. Two tension-filled chapters are followed by relief and the thrill of discovery and a series of historical "firsts." Then, just over the halfway point, real disaster strikes and the tension is cranked up to excruciating. There were many places where I honestly did not want to keep reading, but couldn't make myself stop. I will say no more at this point, except that the ending promises momentous revelations for humans of the 28th century as well as readers of the 21st. Those who have read Lorinda J. Taylor's book The Termite Queen may guess at some of them. I hope Part 8 is in the works! A few things that impressed me especially: first, the extent to which Robbin Nikalishin has grown and matured since his younger days. He has definitely overcome some of his personality flaws to the point that he draws upon his earlier errors and their consequences in dealing with a number of issues on this all-important mission to the stars. Second, the aforementioned wedding scene includes a tantalizing glimpse into the writings of one of the Mythmakers. The Valley of the White Bear and the character Ingreaf are referenced in several of the earlier books, so I was intrigued to learn a little more about them here. Finally, I continue to be impressed by the technological terms for engines and other devices that do not as yet exist. When the Engineers and technical crew deal with these items, their discussions sound absolutely authentic (bearing in mind that I'm neither engineer nor scientist). It may be argued that a reader committed to a long-running series may not be an entirely objective reviewer. On the other hand, having followed Capt. Robbie's career through its many ups and downs, I would have been disappointed if this episode had been less than thrilling. I was certainly not disappointed, and would definitely recommend this book to anyone who appreciates serious science fiction leavened with realistic human relationships and emotions. But you really have to read the first six books to fully appreciate this one!
  • Blue Across the Sea on April 15, 2020

    This post-apocalyptic, coming-of-age novel is set in western North America several hundred years after a major coronal mass ejection has destroyed much of the world's electrical grid and the internet. Social breakdown and the worst aspects of human nature did the rest. This is the story of people living in a socialistic community called Murtaugh, with basic, pre-industrial technology supplemented to a limited extent by electricity and antibiotics. My impression was that of a 1960s hippie commune brought to idealistic and practical perfection. The main character is Tillion, a boy on the brink of manhood, who washes up near Murtaugh after being shipwrecked while fishing in a storm. He becomes part of the community, contributing his inventiveness and willingness to work. An unexpected event causes him and a young woman, Anise (who is also a newcomer), to flee Murtaugh and seek their home villages. I was drawn in by vivid descriptions of how Tillion and other characters worked with the resources around them to make what they needed to live relatively well. Boats and fishing gear are important, as are bows and arrows and knives. People grow and process food, hunt game, and preserve meat. The importance of manual competence and inventiveness is quietly emphasized. Leftovers from the "Before time" (i.e., our present) are seen as both curiosities and resources. Books are prized and community members are taught to read and write. Tillion and the other characters have distinctive personalities; their relationships with one another and their individual characteristics make them appealing. I followed them with interest through a number of challenges, losses, and triumphs. I did find the dialogue a bit stilted in places, especially when Tillion and Anise are alone together. Sometimes it was hard to believe they were in their late teens and not a mature, middle-aged pair! Scenes unfold steadily, building to a number of tense climaxes and resolutions before the primary challenge facing the two young people as they make decisions as individuals and members of communities. My credibility was strained in a few places, where hazards were dealt with a bit too easily. Overall, though, the story was interesting and exciting, with most issues resolved in a satisfying way, but with hints of further adventures to come. I was pleased to see a map near the end of the text, but would have appreciated it more if it were placed at the beginning. The Epilogue, which is actually a combination of prologue and afterword, is both interesting and chilling.
  • Slow Curve on the Coquihalla on April 23, 2020

    I like a mystery with more to it than just the whodunit. This one delivers. The main characters are fully developed and memorable, each one with quirks and distinctive characteristics, especially tough El Watson and biker dude Dan "Sorry" Sorenson. A variety of shifty, shady types add a bit of grit. There's a lot (but not too much) info about the trucking business. And it's set in a place I happen to know well -- British Columbia's Lower Mainland and southern interior. The changing scenery and weather are sketched in to give the reader a picture of this scenic region. Hunter Rayne is no longer in the RCMP so must conduct his investigation into a fellow trucker's death unofficially, calling on former colleagues for help. Sometimes his efforts take a back seat to his regrets and worries about his relationship with his daughters, who have grown up without much of his presence in their lives. Many miles are logged while he figures things out, and many encounters in bars and roadside eateries. Something I found a bit excessive was descriptions of characters' clothing in almost every scene. On the other hand, typos and errors were not an issue, and the ebook formatting was excellent. All in all, I enjoyed riding along with Hunter.
  • Silent PayBack on June 03, 2020

    This book's description suggests it's a police procedural, featuring a detective struggling with a personal problem while on the trail of a serial killer. Indeed, two of the main characters are detectives David Mallory and Anna Lukas, each of whom has a troubled history and awkward personal baggage. The third one is Will Taylor, the main suspect. David's chapters are told in first person; those from other characters' points of view are in third person. Shifting from third person back to first was a bit of a jolt at times. "I?" Who is this? Oh yes, it's David M. David is a sympathetic character, but it took a while for me to warm up to Anna, despite her radical (and largely unexplained) transformation in outlook and habits about a quarter of the way in. Will is a train wreck, veering from one disastrous choice to another. Watching his deterioration is horribly fascinating. My impression was that the detective office of the police department that employs David and Anna is incredibly easygoing and laid back, especially considering it's in the middle of investigating a series of murders. Investigators choosing to take time off or not showing up at all seems to be perfectly fine with their superior, David Snow. (By the way, seeing two characters with the same first name was fairly confusing in the first couple of chapters.) But I admit my only experience of police departments is from fiction and movies. In fact, the detective/mystery aspect of the novel at times takes a leave of absence from the plot. It looks more like psychological fiction as David M. wrestles with his problem, the nature of which is only hinted at for at least half the book, although enough information is supplied that the revelation, when it comes, is more of a confirmation. David relates his thoughts at length while he tries to decide how much to reveal to David S., his boss, or to Anna, as she becomes increasingly important to him. Tension builds in advance of several crucial conversations, only to be dissipated in an unsatisfying way when those conversations happen offstage. And there is a minor subplot involving another pair of characters altogether. In the final quarter of the book, the plot lines do converge sufficiently to develop into a moderately satisfying conclusion. 3.5 stars rounded up to 4.
  • The Blessing of Krozem: A Tale of Ziraf's World on Sep. 06, 2020

    Lorinda J. Taylor's stated goal is "to write compelling fiction that delivers an emotional impact and leaves her readers with something to think about at the end of each story." She has certainly done that with The Blessing of Krozem. Who wouldn't want to become immortal? Especially in a body that remains forever in a state of health and fitness. That is the gift bestowed on the priest Gilzara, one of the central characters of this book. It comes with the power—indeed, the obligation— to make others immortal as well, and with the expectation that the power is used wisely. But the gift coincides with a great loss for Gilzara, because his wife, Javon, refuses it and dies. The creators of the world in which the story takes place gave humans free will, but also trick and test them. Because of this, the gift of immortality becomes a curse for Gilzara, a great responsibility to which he believes himself unequal. And as the only immortal human in the world, he is desperately lonely. The other main character of the book is Halrab, a young apprentice priest whom Gilzara meets decades later, after much sorrowful wandering. Halrab is practical and optimistic, while Gilzara is a tortured soul. The establishment of friendship between the two takes many twists and turns, and constitutes the greater part of the story. Halrab is a sympathetic character. I could identify with him as he solved problems, made choices, and dealt with Gilzara's many anxieties. The setting for this story is Ziraf's World, described in the author's Afterword as "a fantasy creation in a galaxy far, far away from our own planet." The world is sort of like Earth, but also quite different. The sun rises in the west and sets in the east. Blue is the planet's dominant colour. The mountains and even the moon are blue. So is the race of humans to which Gilzara and Halrab belong, although there are rumors of other human races in distant lands. Indeed, this world is full of colours—stars in shades of green, red, purple, and yellow, trees whose blue flowers open by moonlight, and a wealth of other plants and animals, each with distinctive names and characteristics. It's a mountainous region, and the highest mountain has the captivating name of Starbell. I loved this aspect of the book. Another group of characters are the Troil, mostly incorporeal spirits attached to winds, waters, caves, and other natural features. Several of them play key roles in advancing the plot. They are rather charming individuals, whose appearance and ways of expressing themselves add an element of lightness. As with Taylor's other books, this one includes a constructed language (conlang). I discerned some of its conventions as I read, and there is a glossary at the end. It reinforced the impression of an alien world complete in itself. For me, the first two-thirds of the story read like a legend set in China, with its communities of priests, mountain and forest shrines, and mentions of distant and powerful deities. I envisioned the plot as though painted on silk scrolls. In the final four chapters, there is a greater degree of tension and immediacy. Crucial revelations are made, and Gilzara either succeeds or fails (I'm not saying which!) in using the blessing with which he is burdened. I could not imagine, when I started reading, what the outcome might be. The ending was satisfying but the story did give me a lot to think about, as its author intended.
  • Death's Detective (Volume 1 of The Malykant Mysteries) on Sep. 19, 2020

    I took a long time to read this book, mostly because I saved it to read just before going to sleep. It did not give me nightmares, despite its macabre setting. Instead, it provided an entertaining and interesting reading experience. Konrad Savast, the Malykant, and the apothecary Irinanda Falenia are distinctive personalities whose conversations, often about death and strangeness, are lightened with humorous banter. Each of the four novellas in this book features a murder for which retribution must be delivered, but there is an overarching plot about Konrad himself and the difficulties that come with the job of Malykant. His friendship with Irinanda develops and changes. Even his spirit-serpent helpers, Eetapi and Ootapi, furnish the odd subplot as well as unexpected funny moments. The fictional city of Ekamet, in which the stories are set, is dark, cold, and gloomy. It's almost always snowing, raining, or blowing. Nearby is the weird Bone Forest, where Konrad has a hut on stilts. It features in every one of the stories, adding its own brand of shivery attraction. Most of the characters' names are Russian, and there's a nineteenth-century feel to the place, but it's entirely fictitious. The mixture of familiar characters and situations with the weird and unexpected is satisfying. Even as I enjoyed reading this book, I could not help but notice that Charlotte E. English is fond of the semicolon, and uses it correctly. Who says semicolons have no place in works of fiction?
  • Some Day Days on Sep. 23, 2020

    The author of this book describes it as "a rather experimental memoir of the first few months of a long romance." I note the word "experimental" here. Readers looking for a novel with a clear arc from inciting incident, to development, crisis, conclusion and resolution may be dissatisfied by this book. It consists of "pieces," not chapters, which do not always connect with one another. The primary focus of most of them, however, is a possible romance between the two main characters, Hugh Gallagher and Selina Beri. Beri is brilliant, gorgeous, and unattainable. Gallagher is quiet and determined. Not quite halfway through, he says, "I've a feeling ours is a quantum relationship. I dare not define us without changing it." Quite apt, as they are students of math and physics. As intended, what kept me reading was the question: Will this friendship ever become a love affair? The question is answered by the end. That's all I'll say about that. Getting to the end was a leisurely process that occasionally became a slog. The first few pieces, and a couple of the later ones, consist almost entirely of long conversations between Hugh and Selina. She has no problem talking at length about herself, her talents, and how attractive she is. Eventually, I found this annoying and was tempted to stop reading. What kept me going was a weekend visit to Cambridge by the two, where other characters are introduced and things actually happen. There are also a couple of intriguing subplots involving video gaming and EREs (enigmatic recorded events) which are worth reading as discrete stories. Another redeeming feature of the book is its setting--Oxford, Cambridge, and London, in a world that is similar to but subtly different from the real one. It felt like I was reliving an idealized life as a student in the milieu of those two quintessential university towns. Long walks, social get-togethers, picnics, punt-poling, decorating a shared flat--all that made me sweetly nostalgic for things I've never experienced. The author suggests, in a description of this book, that his A Summer in Amber is in a sense a sequel. I've read it, and was reminded of it while I read this one, which I don't think quite measures up to it. Now I think I will have to re-read A Summer in Amber.
  • The Pacifists on Oct. 15, 2020

    This book is about a group of individuals who want to stop an endless war. It's didactic fiction, but done with such manic zest and mischievous glee that the message goes down easily. The setting is a planetary system in the distant future. Much remains from the ancient world, though—fast food, surfing, the snappy repartee of comrades-in-arms. And toasters—except they're powered by Wormhole Inducing Devices (WIDs). There's a lot of nudging and winking, from references to the "peaceniks" of the (real) 1960s, to quotations from books with strangely familiar titles at the start of most chapters. The characters belong to different strains of humanoids, some of which began as genetic engineering projects. Rivalries and enmities exist among these groups, but the main characters manage to overcome their differences for the cause of creating peace by becoming the common enemy of the two warring groups. Until a more serious enemy emerges, that is. I found most of the characters sympathetic or at least interesting, and appreciated how each of them found something in common with the others. By the halfway point, there was almost an overdose of buddy-buddyness, but that meant when the fate of the galaxy was at stake (again), I actually cared whether everyone made it through or not. The setting, although bizarre, is carefully thought out. There's a planet for every type, and everything is powered by WIDs. Zipping through hyperspace is hardly ever a problem, except when it is. I don't know enough about physics to argue with the premises behind all this, especially since I was often too busy laughing at lines like this: "…no one will be coming this way anyway. All the good brunch places in this system are on Planet NoChil(1)." Or trying to envision the gang at the bottom of an ocean tearing up bedsheets (on a spaceship, really?) for use as reverse parachutes to get to the surface. There are plenty of issues we 21st century readers can relate to. Like what all those WIDs are doing to space-time, and do we want to leave our children a habitable galaxy? Or evil corporations for whom the profit motive is everything. Or whether real humans are superior to those descended from genetically modified ones. The ending is satisfying in that there's an overall resolution, but with enough ambiguity to make one think. But it doesn't tell us what happens to some of the characters, which is a pity. Overall, I enjoyed reading this book, because of the clever way it presented serious ideas in a zany matrix.
  • Children of the Music on Nov. 23, 2020

    This book is about the meeting and interaction of two different peoples in a fictional world. The Siritoch are nonviolent pastoralists who experience divinity through music. The Epanishai are horse-loving warriors whose matrilineal origins are revealed by their powerful female priesthood, even though the god they worship is male. After years of wandering, they seek a new homeland in which they hope to plant their sacred trees. The lifeways and culture of the Siritoch are presented in loving detail, introducing members of an extended family living in an idyllic village. When the Epanishai arrive, attempts at communication fail and tragedy ensues. Part 2 of the book takes place nearly three centuries later, with a different cast of characters. The Epanishai live in established villages, while the Siritoch are landless wanderers. This section focusses on the hardships experienced by Ondrach a young Siritoch man, and his wife Lisarith, again caused by miscommunication and prejudice. With the topics of refugees, migrants, and racism in today's current events, this book has a particular relevance for our times. It vividly portrays the divisive effects of differences among human groups, such as physical appearance, language, culture, and religion. Because of the two different stories, there are a lot of characters in this book, maybe too many. The author has provided complete lists of characters at the beginning of each section, but many of them appear only once or twice and are not seen again. The main characters of each section, however, are distinct and relatable, even the less admirable ones. Although this is an entirely different sort of story, I was reminded of J.R.R. Tolkien's works as I read, not only by the care with which the two peoples are described, but also by the feeling that the events were in some sense fated. As in Taylor's Ki'shto'ba books, prophecies and their fulfillment play an important role here. The author's notes at the end of the book state that Children of the Music was written as a prequel to a much larger work that remains unpublished. This may explain a certain uneven quality I noticed. The characters, although realistic and carefully rendered (the main characters, at least), seem subordinate to the larger ideas behind the narrative. It's as though they were created to serve the story, rather than the story being about them. I'll end with a quotation from The Fellowship of the Ring. Aragorn describes the tale of Tinúviel, which he is about to relate: "It is a fair tale, though it is sad, as are all the tales of Middle-earth, and yet it may lift up your hearts." The same may be said of Children of the Music.
  • The Inn at the Edge of Light on Dec. 02, 2020

    This book is written in second person present tense. The person experiencing the events that make up the plot isn't "he" or "I," it's "you." It took me a while to get used to that, but I'm glad I kept reading. The experience was like undoing a tight knot in a string, maddening but ultimately worth the effort when the tightly twisted strands loosen and open up. The main character is at times a young man, at others middle-aged and living in a harsh world where the social order is collapsing into chaos. The time period ranges from the 1980s to the 21st century, a near future projected from the actual present. Scenes circle from the inn of recurring dreams to episodes in Chris's real life (referred to as "topside"). At first, it's all pretty obscure, but eventually patterns and a sense of progress emerge. The narrative is full of symbols and references to mythology, psychology and philosophy. Recurring images include Scotch whiskey, bottles, watches, keys, and a pebble. There are references to the enneagram, journeys, and mystical quests. Almost all the action is interior, a scrutiny of Chris's memories, thoughts, expectations, and hopes. It's almost claustrophobic at times, but ultimately, the knot opens to an ending that, although ambiguous, is satisfying. This is a book I will think about for a long time and probably re-read at some point.
  • Beneath the Lanterns on Dec. 17, 2020

    There are really only two important characters in this book: scholar Kel Cam and the eccentric Ren Loh. Brought up by her father as one of his Imperial Lancers, Ren is dead set against the marriage her mother has arranged for her. Kel’s friendship with the prospective bridegroom gets him entangled with Ren early in the book, and the rest of the story is about how the two of them work things out while eluding the clutches of those who want to drag Ren back to the politically expedient marriage. Kel is serious and methodical; Ren is an adventurous risk-taker. To escape discovery, the two disguise themselves as caravan guards and later as pilgrims to a mystical city. More than once, Kel hopes he’s seen the last of her, but chance, and eventually loyalty, keep bringing them together. Engaging secondary characters include a dog with personality and a couple of horses. Well, there is another noteworthy “character,” and that is the world in which the action takes place. The landscapes and urban scenes reminded me of old China, but the long days and nights under the Yellow and Blue Lanterns suggested a different world. Places called Cauldrons, of unstable ground and toxic gases, resemble volcanic features, but not exactly. Remnants of the Elder Civilization are also tantalizing, for example the building material called “poured stone” and the enormously tall Blue Lantern Tower. That’s another thing–the story is full of colour, starting with the two Lanterns. There is a White City, a Green City and communities of something called the Blue Order. I would love to learn more about this world. As the author’s description says, this is indeed an old-fashioned adventure story, with comradeship, conflict, hard choices, and narrow escapes. It reminded me of movies like High Road to China and Romancing the Stone. I hope a sequel is in the works.
  • Troubles on Jan. 02, 2021

    The author, in an afterword, calls this book a futuristic thriller. It is set in the 2050s, as the world attempts to emerge from a period of lawless violence known as the troubles, precipitated by energy resource shortages. The book opens with a successful test of a fusion reactor, which promises abundant energy for the future. This is the science fiction aspect of the story. The plot creates a series of problems and proposes a variety of solutions, embodied in a number of characters. The two primary characters, Henry Adams and Susan Foster, are young people who come of age in this milieu and follow different careers. They are sufficiently fleshed out that I came to care about what happened to them. Henry is often indecisive and overwhelmed by events, a characteristic which makes him relatable and a bit annoying. Susan is a realistic rationalist. Other characters are mainly types--bankers, criminals, industrialists, lawyers, engineers, businesspeople. There are enough of them that I sometimes struggled to remember who was who and how they related to one another. It's important to remember these details, however, because almost everyone is trying to deceive someone. The plot is carefully constructed to show different approaches to rebuilding an economic and social structure. Free enterprise versus monopolies versus unprincipled greed are played out in scenes where characters' thought processes and arguments are described in detail. There are also action sequences in which strategies are also played out step by step. Problems addressed include the role and function of government, and a police force corrupted by government failure. Despite the focus on business, with meetings, negotiations, offers, and deals, this is a violent world. Many quite brutal killings are carried out in the course of the story, not always by the bad guys. This adds a significant element of tension which kept my interest, especially in the final chapters, which present a shocking twist and its consequences. The prose is plain and direct, but not elegant or polished. There are some humorous turns of phrase, especially in tense situations. This is an interesting read, but not an easy one. It is a book relevant for the present time, when many of the issues it examines are visible in the real world.
  • Sea Swallow Me on Jan. 20, 2021

    What struck me most about this book was the author's talent in describing colours. Every story is full of colour, rendered in vivid, sensuous prose. Some of the stories are harsh, some funny (in a way), and others mysteriously intriguing. The ones I enjoyed in particular are "Etiolate," "A Bird of Ice," and the title story, "Sea Swallow Me." This was a different reading experience for me, and it was definitely worthwhile.
  • Have You Seen My Cat? on Jan. 22, 2021

    This short book is built around a "What if...?" plot that moves along quickly. Character development is minimal, although occasionally a character expresses philosophical thoughts. Detective Primrose and his sidekick Albert make a good team. Altogether, a quick, entertaining read. PS: it's not really about cats.
  • Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder: Report of the Anthropological Expedition to the Planet Known as Kal-Fa on Jan. 24, 2021

    Dark, edgy, unsettling--these words from the book's description certainly convey a clear message to readers. I think the author's main purpose behind the book, however, is to provoke readers to think, and it certainly achieved that effect for me. The plot unfolds in the form of documents submitted to an inquiry examining grave events that ended a scientific mission to a distant planetary system in the 31st century. (Readers of Taylor's other books will be familiar with her version of earth's history to that date.) The documents include thought-recordings of the three participants--highly personal diary-like narratives that show how individual interests and biases converged to result in tragedy. This is definitely science fiction, but its main focus is not technology (although that is certainly present). Instead, it deals with what can happen when scientists in the field forget to curb their human natures, even when their intentions are benign. It also has a message for those in charge of investigative teams about keeping a close watch on their subordinates' emotional states and the importance of clear communication. I have to say that certain aspects of this story strained my capabilities to suspend belief, but in the end, the validity of the issues it raises overrode those reservations. As always with Taylor, the prose is clear and direct and the parameters of the fictional world are logical. However, I found myself thinking that this story could be turned into an opera by the right composer and librettist. It has the ingredients of appealing characters and high drama.
  • Bread and Salt on April 17, 2021

    A wide-ranging collection of stories around the themes of family, relationships, travel, and women's life choices. All of them were engaging, but I particularly enjoyed "Iconoclast" and "Bread and Salt," for their (to me) exotic locations, Turkey and Tunisia respectively. Most of the stories could be called literary fiction, but a few included thriller-esque elements, and one ("Quiet as the Moon") edged up to fantasy. The writing quality is excellent, creating memorable images of places and cuisine. The point of view characters are all women, usually academics or creatives. I found the stories relatable and engaging. I read them over a period of several weeks at the end of the day. Most of them made me think and none of them gave me nightmares.
  • The Dying Hour on April 23, 2021

    This book is a crime thriller in the tradition of Thomas Harris's The Silence of the Lambs. It has all the elements. The unfortunate young female victim. The eager young investigator--in this case, aspiring journalist Jason Wade--who breaks rules and takes chances while dealing with a disadvantaged background and psychological baggage. The roaming sadistic killer. Mofina combined all this into a pretty good read. Jason Wade is a relatable character. I found myself rooting for him as he struggles with his personal issues and shaky position as the doubtful prospect among the interns at a major newspaper. I did appreciate the close-up view of how things are done in print journalism. I also liked the Pacific Northwest setting, and how the killer used its size and remote areas as part of his strategy. A few quibbles. First, the main victim is almost too good, almost saintly. I think this is because of a parallel that emerges well into the book, but still... Second, a bit too much repetition of the grisly details, although it could be argued that's part of the package.
  • The Man Who Found Birds Among the Stars, Part Eight: Rare Birds on June 16, 2021

    After the dire situation in which the crew of the Ariana find themselves at the end of Part Seven, the main focus of this book is communication. Communication between humans and three species of intelligent Birds who are their only hope for survival and a return to Earth. The author is a conlang enthusiast, and this is evident on nearly every page. Most scenes necessarily involve urgent efforts to find common understandings between humans and Birds on technological matters as well as everyday language. Fortunately, vivid personalities in both groups provide a good deal of humour, even several laugh-out-loud scenes featuring misunderstandings and personality differences. In addition to the communication issue, several technological challenges provide tension and drive the plot into a momentous opportunity for both groups of life forms. Capt. Robbie also has to deal with a couple of personnel crises that began in previous books. All these elements combine to provide a rewarding reading experience for readers who have followed the Captain's career throughout the series. For readers new to it, I heartily recommend Book Seven, Fifth Island in the River and this one as a thrilling and engaging adventure of space exploration.
  • The Emperor's Edge Collection, Books 1-3 on June 30, 2021

    Reading this, I kept being reminded of action comic books, where "biff!" and "pow!" and "aagh!" make frequent appearances. Or of sit-coms featuring characters with exaggerated personalities whose banter is more entertaining than the plot. Banter, indeed, is a main feature of the books. Although described as steampunk, these stories combine a bunch of incongruous elements. Yes, we have steam-powered machines, gaslamps, and kerosene lanterns. Weapons include swords, knives, pistols, and muskets. Diving suits feature in two of the three books. (Imagine someone wearing a diving suit and armed with a sword!) Sophisticated tech is regarded with suspicion and is mostly created and used by the villains. But Amaranthe has a business school background and frequently comes out with opinions that wouldn't be amiss in the present-day boardroom. It's kind of a mishmash, but it works. The premise behind the books is that a 25-year-old falsely disgraced enforcer (meaning cop) assembles a team of disparate men and forms them into a team intended to fight the emperor's enemies. Their skills and teamwork (and incredible luck) help them come out on top every time. I have to admit, the plots often strain the old suspension of disbelief system. Mine creaked ominously in places, and nearly bottomed out a few times. I have to say, though, these books are fun reads, perfect for the beach.
  • Prince of Conjurers on Sep. 09, 2021

    The premise behind this novel is intriguing--a continuation of the Phantom of the Opera story beyond the original novel and musical, combined with a 21st century character trying to escape her personal demons. The New Orleans setting is one of the best parts of the story, giving it a distinctive flavour of architecture, culture and history. As a paranormal mystery/romance, it worked for me. About halfway through, a fantasy element emerges and the story takes a turn into confusion and chaos. In addition to voodoo and past lives are added time travel, vampires, sudden superpowers, and body-hopping spirits. It's almost a different novel with some of the same characters. All is explained in the end, after taking a very long way to get there. The book's length made reading it something of a slog. The main characters' emotional ups and downs are described again and again, to the point I wished they (especially Erik) would get their act together and stop being delusional and immature. There is also quite a bit of violence. On the other hand, Julie does develop from a somewhat directionless person into a strong character who knows what she wants. I would have enjoyed this more if it had been shorter and without the fantasy side trips.
  • The Sitter on Sep. 19, 2021

    This is an unvarnished look at the beginning of the end of World War II in a Tuscan village near Florence. The end of a war can be a drawn-out, ugly process, and so it is here. Through multiple points of view, the author shows instances of violence (including rape), struggle, fear, betrayal, and despair. Atrocities are committed on civilians both by Italians and Germans as the German army retreats. The various characters are created with sufficient detail to be memorable. Many of them are sympathetic, which makes their sufferings that much harder to read about. Normal human relationships, such as those of old lovers, new lovers, parents and children, are bent and shredded by the horrors of war. There are a few heartwarming moments, but only a few, especially in the second half of the book. The beautiful background of the Tuscan countryside is vividly rendered and presents a contrast to the human struggles enacted upon it. The book is well-written, but hard to read in places, so while I recognize its quality, I really cannot say I liked it. As one scene of horror followed another, I skimmed the last few chapters, just to see who was alive at the end. Then I realized I had missed some important details and made myself go back and read those chapters more closely. I wondered about the title. One of the characters is an artist, as well as an English spy. Except for a brief instance near the beginning of the book, no one actually sits for him; he sketches people he encounters while working with a group of Partisans. Perhaps the "sitter" is actually the war-torn community.
  • Spider's Truth (Detective Trann Series Book 1) on Sep. 29, 2021

    While reading the first half of this book, I kept thinking that the fictional version of the Boston Police Department presented here was disorganized and ineffective. Think Keystone Cops. I couldn't see what makes Detective Trann special; his personal life is a mess and he has an incredibly short fuse. Sergeant Millan, a kind of father figure to him, is always telling Trann to go home and take a rest, even in the middle of a serial killer investigation. The only characters that have their act together are the medical examiner, Charlotte Salla, and Mags the receptionist. Around the halfway point, the plot takes a weird turn. My suspension of disbelief was already creaking and totally bottomed out when the motive for the murders was revealed, along with a whole lot of other stuff. All that said, I admit I read to the end in order to find out what happened. The climactic scenes were pretty unbelievable, but wrapped up the story fairly well.
  • Along the Nile on Oct. 01, 2021

    This is a fictional account of the origins of the pharaoh Narmer, considered the first king of a united upper and lower Egypt, about 5,000 years ago. Its narrator is a man called Heb, who begins as a devoted servant of one of the last pharaohs of southern (upper) Egypt and becomes a priest of the goddess Hathor. He is closely involved with Narmer from childhood onward, and witnesses many upheavals and conflicts that precede the unification of the land. The thing that impressed me was the author's intention to achieve authenticity by using approximations of ancient Egyptian names for deities, people, and places, rather than the familiar forms. Thus we have Het-Heru instead of Hathor, Ausar instead of Osiris, Ent-ta-Neter instead of Dendera, and Waset instead of Thebes. An interpretation of ancient Egyptian spirituality underlies the plot and is explained in an appendix that follows the story. The story itself has some compelling elements, including a complex love story, during which the narrator Heb admits to many tumescent episodes. The plot unfolds rather slowly at the beginning and by leaps and bounds at the end, when many momentous events are summarized rather than played out in detailed scenes. The palace at Abtu (Abydos) is imagined in gorgeous detail, as are characters' appearances and clothing. All this adds up to a fairly absorbing read for those with a keen interest in ancient Egypt and willing to entertain this author's views on its history and spirituality.
  • Spoliation on Oct. 26, 2021

    Miller has managed to combine real science, appealing characters, and an intriguing plot into a readable story with broad appeal. It is, of course, fiction set in a future that may not be all that distant. Mars has been colonized, there are space stations, and asteroids are being captured and processed into building materials and tapped for water. But human nature hasn't changed much; greed and duplicity are alive and well in both large and petty forms. Shadowy corporate interests with designs on controlling the world government are the main antagonist here. Captain Jonas Stryker is a hero, in all senses of the word. He's a super-competent pilot, reads people well, and mostly treats others decently. Some others don't treat him very well, though, which is what precipitates this story. The supporting cast includes investigator Janice Hardy, who has a bone to pick with Stryker but has to cooperate with him first. Other characters, both admirable and not, come and go as the pair bounce around space and end up in rural Australia for a final showdown. Among Stryker's most loyal and capable allies are a group of androids, a.k.a. "metal men," who add an element of wit and humour. Indeed, there is an undercurrent of dry humour throughout the book. The prose is clear and workmanlike, but not artful or poetic. It gets the job done, including explanations of how asteroids can be managed and how a form of gravity is achieved on space stations. Science does not bog down the fiction, however. The plot moves along at a brisk pace, with plenty of action. An Author's Note at the end contains additional information about asteroids. The ending is satisfying but not entirely conclusive. Apparently a sequel is intended, which I look forward to reading.
  • Biofuels. An Overview. on Nov. 08, 2021

    It's hard for me to rate this book because I lack the background knowledge of chemistry to evaluate the content. However, it is written clearly, with excellent editing. The author explains a number of processes to produce fuels and other products from biological materials. He makes it clear that something that may work well in a laboratory may not be practical at an industrial level. I was impressed (and confused) by detailed descriptions of reactions that lead to different outcomes depending on a number of variables, such as the material being processed, temperatures, pressure, etc. I doubt that many non-specialists are aware of the complexities of fuel production. Reading this book has made me think about production and consumption of fuels in a different way.
  • Catling's Bane on Dec. 17, 2021

    This book is the first of four set in Ellegeance, a world of cities built in tiers in a land of rivers and swamps. This world is laid out in lush, descriptive prose, from its three differently coloured moons to an abundance of birds and reptiles. The human inhabitants include people with three fingers and spotted skins. There are hints of mysterious beings called Founders who created the cities. All this makes for a fascinating reading experience, even without the plot and characters. The main character, Catling, is a child of two at the beginning of the book and a girl of fifteen at the end. Her primary characteristic is an ability to block the power over emotions exercised by people called influencers, which is used as a means of social control. Thus Catling is perceived as a threat to the fabric of society but also a desirable tool. Due to her youth, Catling has limited agency in this story. For the most part she is an actual or potential victim, moved about like a chess piece by individuals in the Guild of Influencers. Because of this, I found some of the other characters more interesting, notably Vianne the doyen, young Whitt, and the enigmatic swamp-dweller Raker. There is a dearth of good people in this story, and most of them tend to suffer and even die. I found the overall feel of the book to be a grim one, relieved at times by the curious beauty of the natural world and brief intervals of congeniality. To me, certain fundamental elements of the story are somewhat obscure, notably a substance called luminescence, and the nature of influence. Luminescence is derived from water, and may be similar to the bioluminescence or phosphorescence seen in the real world. But in Ellegeance, it is somehow extracted and bottled for use in the tier cities. This is an interesting concept I wish was described in more detail. I didn't really understand influence. The idea of people whose function is to override people's natural emotions in order to control exploited underclasses makes a kind of macabre sense, but the details and logical extensions of the concept eluded me. For one thing, it appears that influencers are made, not born. The ruler of Ellegeance is a king whose mind is failing, but I did not see a clear picture of the governing hierarchy. Perhaps all this is explored and explained further in the other books of the Rose Shield series. This brings me to the fact that this book is only the beginning of a much longer story. Although in its course Catling survives a number of perilous situations, the book ends just as she is entering a stage in which she is able to exercise some agency and make real choices. There is no sense of conclusion, only an invitation to read on.
  • Seniors Sleuth on Jan. 10, 2022

    While the plot is twisty and interesting, the characters are bizarre and there are too many unlikely occurrences. Winston is an unlicensed investigator, but we see him fingerprinting people and casually searching private premises. He has a group of helpful friends who pop up when needed and do whatever Winston asks. I kept setting the book down and thinking, "Really?" On the plus side, Winston is an engaging anti-hero with good intentions. I enjoyed the banter between him and his sister Marcy, and the references to Asian-American culture. The resolution of the mystery is moderately satisfying (if one overlooks the aforementioned lucky breaks). The book also provides an unvarnished look at the care home business and the situations of many older people. Descriptions of grimy and smelly situations are almost too well done. This book might be described as a gritty cozy. 3.5 stars, rounded up.
  • God's Adamantine Fate on March 29, 2022

    This is a realistic medical thriller-mystery. The author's personal experience in medicine and research shows on almost every page. The story of what may have caused rare and fatal cancers almost becomes lost at times among a huge cast of characters, all pursuing their personal interests in medicine, broadcasting, research, the pharmaceutical industry, business, and politics. I admit I had a bit of trouble following the different scenarios at times, but by the halfway point, a pattern emerged. Even minor characters are given distinctive quirks and mannerisms that distinguish them and help to keep them straight. And the two principal characters, pediatric oncologist Zeke Schwartz and radio talk show host Acey Henson, are definitely memorable. Through the interactions of all these characters, the reader gets a look at how various systems work and affect one another. People who treat sick children, other people who make drugs to treat disease, who sell those drugs, who invest in the companies that develop and produce drugs. Then there are the behind-the-scenes people who test the drugs and keep track of the results, and the FDA which regulates and monitors those drugs. Throw in the media and a few politicians and things get complicated. The plot is well thought out and worth following through the different perspectives. The human element isn't forgotten, however. We see people doing their jobs, experiencing highs and lows in the process. There aren't any really evil characters, but a few are less than admirable. Acey is a bit rough but her good qualities outweigh the not so good. Zeke is almost too good to be true at times, but that makes it easy to root for him. Some characters' stories are left unresolved at the end, just like in "real life." Altogether, this is an interesting and satisfying read.
  • Lady of Ice and Fire on April 12, 2022

    This is a curious sort of thriller. By no means does it feature nonstop action, at least in the early going. Even at the three-quarters point, the plot bogs down in a new element that needs extensive setup. The real interest for me was Taylor Redding, the oddball adventurer, and the way she and lab geek George Jeffers develop from total strangers to partners in risky enterprises. Eventually, standard thriller elements show up, as the characters dash from one location to another in Europe. There's a box of cash, firearms, fast cars, and several dead bodies. The conclusion is sufficiently tense and conclusive, but with tantalizing possibilities. The novel is set in the 1990s, shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the reunification of Germany. The author explores possible developments from that situation, with a rather chillingly apt conclusion, given present-day events. Another aspect of that time period is there are no cell phones, no digital cameras, no internet. Their absence didn't bother this reader, but some may find that aspect quaint, or irritating. It's a pretty good read, despite occasional episodes of over-explaining and a few spots where Taylor's talents seem a bit too good to be true. But then, I've never stolen a plane and then jumped out of it, or jimmied locks, or roamed the world as a thrill-seeking adventurer.
  • Surviving Sanctuary on July 15, 2022

    This is an amazing book. For one thing, it’s long—nearly 500K words—and it’s only the first of four books of that length. Secondly, it’s a book I can describe only as “setting-driven.” The setting is a fictional country called Sanctuary. The characters and plot, to a large extent, serve to illustrate the setting. Here is what the author, P.J. O’Brien, says about it: “She dreamed up a country founded upon the ideals of fairness and peace, and then added characters that had to abide by the framework of their culture. They were given the traditional provocations to fighting (e.g. limited resources, invasions, religious & ideological differences) as well as some natural horrors that plague people. The characters were allowed to evolve on their own and respond to crises as they saw fit. They had only to be true to their culture, retain essential elements of modern humanity, and be charming when not dealing with threats that could potentially end the world as they knew it.” This is not a fantasy. The country called Sanctuary is embedded in the real world of the late 20th century and the first few years of the 21st. References are made to real places and historical events. One of the main characters is from the US, and it’s clear that Sanctuarians visit other countries and even have relatives there. It’s never stated exactly where Sanctuary is located, but my guess is somewhere in Asia, possibly Central Asia. Its inhabitants experienced effects of the Second World War. The population is multi-ethnic, multi-faith, and multilingual. Characters often speak in languages other than English, but the entire story is in English. Sanctuarian names are simple: male names have a single syllable, female names two. There are no weird spellings or made-up words, but family (House) names are often memorable and charming. Sanctuary is governed by a hereditary monarchy based on matrilineal descent. The king and queen are brother and sister. Practical matters such as law enforcement and social services are carried out by a Guild of Masters, who are practitioners of a form of martial —although they are called “Defensive”—arts. Masters abide by a strict Code of Ethics, which governs their life choices and day-to-day activities. There are two plot lines, presented at first in alternating chapters. Both take place in an annual pilgrimage period called the Journey, one in the year 1982 and the other in 2003. The first concerns an atypical and shocking massacre; the second involves an American, Brian Cohen, looking for his ex-girlfriend’s sister, who apparently disappeared during a visit to Sanctuary the previous year. I have to say, these two stories are sometimes overshadowed by the setting. There is a long lead-up to the 1982 massacre; and about three-quarters of the way through, Brian himself goes missing for several chapters. The results of his search for Jenny Adler are mentioned only in passing, because by then Brian has become absorbed into the local culture and has other concerns. Since he’s an outsider, his point of view is helpful in showing the peculiarities of that culture, especially the customs and practices around marriage and family life. Throughout the book, information is presented in the form of rather unrealistic dialogue, in which two people, and sometimes more, have deep conversations about subjects such as history, mythology, religious beliefs, or ethics. It’s easy to lose track of who is speaking. These conversations sometimes occur while people are doing things like dancing or cooking. There are way too many named characters—dozens or perhaps hundreds. It’s hard to keep track of who is who at times, but the principal ones are sufficiently distinct to be memorable. By the end of the book, there is the sense of a multi-generational family saga unfolding. Since one of the plot elements is a massacre, there are adversaries. Two confrontations with them take place, one in 1982 and the other in 2003. I have to say, I thought the enemies are rather amorphous and too easily overcome by the protagonists, who use their martial arts skills, aided by telepathy and mental communication with animals. This is the closest the book comes to fantasy; the powers are for the most part plausible within the parameters of the book, but at one point people who did not possess telepathic powers previously are suddenly using them. Unless I misread something, I found this to be a weak point. My overall impression of this book is that it’s the author’s envisioning of Sanctuary expressed in the characters’ actions and conversations, rather than a tightly-constructed plot. Reading the book was like spending time in the country, getting to know its people socially by listening to them talk. The real nitty-gritty of their relationships must be inferred and emerges slowly. By the end, I felt I was starting to get it, but even so, after I finished the book I re-read the first several chapters as a refresher. I must say they made way more sense the second time around. The book is well-written and edited; there are very few errors. 4.5 stars, rounded up. I definitely recommend this book, but only for readers who like immersive fiction and who are prepared for a long read.
  • Best Friends and Other Lovers on Aug. 16, 2022

    This trio of romantic encounters features three different couples. An interesting aspect is the family and friend relationships that exist among the six individuals, in addition to the sexy encounters that are the focus of each story. So, for example, Nick in "Once Upon a Night," the first story, has an ex-wife named Hannah. She is the female lead in "Blind Date," and Nick's sister Deanna is the narrator and main character of "Best Friends & Other Lovers," the third and final story. That means there are references in the later stories to the people in the earlier ones, a nice touch. For the most part, the characters are professionals in their 30s--doctors, architects, business consultants, etc. They have lots of money at their disposal, so the reader is treated to pleasant surroundings, lovely clothes, and delightful meals. The first story, "Once Upon a Night," is about a relationship that develops from unlikely to actual, thanks to a winter storm. It's told in first person from alternating points of view, hers and his. Since there is quite a lot of steamy sex, I must commend the author on capably rendering the sensations and emotions of both parties. "Blind Date" begins with a fantasy that becomes reality played out in detail. Readers will definitely want to keep a fan handy for this one. It fairly sizzles. "Best Friends & Other Lovers" is subtitled "a Christmas story," and indeed it is. I liked this one the best of the three because it contained more characters and backstory, which made the main characters more relatable and sympathetic. Good friends Deanna and Ted go to his grandmother's ranch near Calgary, Alberta for Christmas. In addition to holiday warmth and fun, there's the question of when (or if) Ted plans to propose to his absent girlfriend, and how that might change his friendship with Deanna. The sexual situations in these stories are explicit and detailed but not gratuitous. All sex is consensual and responsible. I'm not a dedicated reader of romance, but I found these stories to be well-written and diverting. I would recommend this book to fans of spicy romance.
  • Sunwielder on Aug. 16, 2022

    Despite the gorgeous prose and vividly imagined setting, this book was a tough read for me. But before I say why, I must acknowledge the author's skills in use of language and especially of imagining scenes and rendering them into words. Here's the first paragraph: "The warrior rode in silence. Black oaks, dark with summer leaves, swathed the trail in shifting shadow. Shafts of sunlight speared the forest floor, altered only by the sway of branches in the heated wind. She directed the mare with her knees, an arrow nocked in her recurve bow. A short sword, with a breath of a curve, rested in its scabbard at her belt, the ornate guard and curling quillon studded with moonstones." And so it continues, rich with detail and the terminology of weapons, because this fictional world is at war. The life of the main character, Gryff Worden, is traced from young adulthood onward. We see him learn swordcraft and horse breeding, we follow his courtship and marriage, the beginnings of a family, only to be swept up with him into an army at war. Chapter after chapter deal with preparing for battle, strategies, bloody combat and its aftermath, only to regroup and do it all again. And again. The pages bristle with names, ranks, and terms for units of quasi-medieval armed forces. I most definitely respect the author for working out the details of a years-long campaign, full of victories and defeats, loss of friends, and having to eat horse meat. Over and over again, the reader is reminded that War is Hell. Gryff longs to return to his farm and family, to find out if they are still alive, but is constantly denied because that is not his fate. His fate is contained in a medallion called the sunwield. While he carries it, he may exchange death for a different outcome. Because of this, some bloody scenes are repeated. Is there such a thing as reader's PTSD? Because I think I experienced it a few times. And I have to admit I skimmed sections that began with yet another battle. So what kept me reading? Simply that I wanted to find out whether Gryff ever returns to his farm and family. And I wanted to know more about the sunwield. Where does it come from? Who decides who is given it? How does it work? Were these questions answered? The final chapters provided some answers, but much remains a mystery. And even though Gryff sort of figures out how to use the sunwield, I was left feeling that he still didn't have much choice as to his ultimate fate. The ending, although satisfying, leaves the reader with much to think about. 4.5 stars, rounded up. I recommend this book to readers of serious fantasy, especially those who appreciate realistic descriptions of armed conflict.
  • Sailing to Redoubt on Aug. 21, 2022

    This is a lovely book--a true, old-fashioned adventure story in an exotic setting. While planning a career as an adventuring archaeologist, Lieutenant (Limited Time) Taef Lang of the Aerlonian Navy is drawn into a quest by a pair of twin sisters with a fascinating background. One of them entrusts him with a personal treasure and the other tries to convince him it's because of love, despite evidence to the contrary. The question of who is right about this persists through a series of voyages among the islands of the Tropic Sea on a 12 metre sailing vessel named the Night Song. Here is a description of sailing by night: "Overhead a million stars winked and shimmered. To the west, a silver-white trail led across the dark sea to Arra just above the horizon. A dark peak of an island notched the sky to the east. ... The sea slapped the hull and gurgled and hissed past. The Night Song talked to itself in a hundred little creaks and groans as it plunged through the sea." I'm sure anyone who has sailed in tropical waters will relate to this and many other scenarios. The fact that there are two moons suggests we're not in the Caribbean or the South China Sea, but aside from that the setting includes unexplored islands, sudden storms, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis. There are encounters with armorfish and reef dragons and pirates. Taef has to cope with these and other hazards while wondering about the consequences of his sudden departure from his post, and how (or whether) he should disengage himself from his by turns delightful and annoying companions. The story is too realistic to be called a fantasy, but there is an element of steampunk about it. No airships, but lots of trains and sailing vessels. Readers familiar with naval culture will likely appreciate some of the humorous references. There is no need to say more about the plot, because the revelations of the story are too good to spoil. I heartily recommend this book to anyone looking for an entertaining adventure, especially one involving sea voyages.
  • The Daemoniac (A Gaslamp Gothic Victorian Paranormal Mystery) on Aug. 25, 2022

    This was an entertaining and engrossing read from start to finish. Harrison "Harry" Fearing Pell is a bit too smart and capable to believe at times, but from the moment she takes on a case intended for her older sister (famous investigator Myrtle Fearing Pell) until the final denouement, there's never a dull moment. Harry races all over 1880s New York City tracking down a killer who may not be human. She is assisted by her childhood friend John Weston, her housekeeper Mrs. Rivers, and a motely crew of street kids. She even calls upon a real person of the time, adventurous journalist Nelllie Bly. And--amazingly--Arthur Conan Doyle, at the very beginning of publishing his Sherlock Holmes stories, is her honourary uncle! The reader is treated to a vicarious tour of NYC, from horrible slums to the mansions of the ultra-rich. Harry wears a variety of outfits, from borrowed male duds to fancy ball gowns. Her male companions' clothing choices do not escape description, making for detailed and colourful scenes. I was impressed by the amount of research the author must have done to represent period details and locations. At times, historical facts get in the way of the narrative, when action scenes are frozen while someone explains the background of the place where something dangerous is about to happen. Harry and John have opposing views about ghosts and supernatural entities. She's a skeptic, he's a believer (despite being a medical student). This theme runs throughout the story and remains tantalizingly unresolved at the end of the book, even though the case is conclusively closed. I recommend this book to mystery fans looking for something a little different, and especially to readers who know and love New York City.
  • The Necromancer's Daughter on Aug. 31, 2022

    In the Acknowledgements at the beginning of this book, the author says this book was written in response to a challenge "to write a book with one beautiful character, not someone physically stunning, but someone with a beautiful heart, a truly good person." There are two such people in this book--Aster, the necromancer's daughter, and Barus, the necromancer. Their father-daughter relationship is shown beautifully here, along with much else. As always, Peach's prose is vivid and poetic. Her descriptions of landscapes, skies, and weather are fulsome and gorgeous. Fear and flight from peril are rendered equally well, such that I felt Aster's terror at being pursued, the rough terrain she flees through, and the snow, cold, and mud that hinder her. The fictional world is realistic, except it includes dragons. Aster has a special relationship with them, but they are also deployed as aerial threats by one group of humans in the story. Another delightful element is the references to plants used by Barus and Aster in preparing both healing medicines and the poisonous substances used in necromancy. Ambivalence about this practice runs throughout the book. Some see it as a natural extension of healing, but others regard it as evil and justification for hanging any who practice it. This is a dramatic and compelling read, as scenes of narrow escapes and deadly threats follow one another in quick succession. Reminders of the beauties of the world and the sweetness of Aster's life with her father add poignancy and colour the ending of the story. I recommend this book to almost anyone, but especially readers who appreciate thoughtful and dramatic fantasy.
  • The Two-Blood Legacy (The Red Cliffs Chronicles Book 1) on Sep. 20, 2022

    Almost all the characters in this book are what are known as Langaer, a collective name for wizards, werewolves, and vampires (who prefer to be called Tel-Urugh). A helpful glossary at the end explains the various terms. These nonhuman beings exist within the ordinary human world of the present. They watch movies made by humans and enjoy music familiar to us. They drive fancy cars. They depend upon humans to supply genetic material so they can avoid the consequences of inbreeding. For the most part, their attitude to humans is benign, and they use magic to conceal their true natures from them. But there are almost no humans in this story, which I would describe as a paranormal romance and family saga. The author has crafted the environment inhabited by the Langaer with exquisite care. Languages, society, history, customs, and rules are described in detail, along with the physical appearance of all the important characters. Hair and eye colours, clothing, jewelry, architecture, and furniture are given their due, resulting in vivid and beautiful settings inhabited by gorgeous human-like (but inhuman) characters. Astrid (a wizard-werewolf hybrid) and Jack (a werewolf) are the principals in this drama. Their union is fated and eternal. To fulfil their destiny, they must first deal with unifying Astrid's two spirits, and with the pain that accompanies her physical transition to a wolf, which occurs at every full moon. And there is also an insane and relentless enemy in a nearby community, who wants to kidnap Astrid and kill Jack. That's the basic premise, but it takes a long time to develop. Many pages are spent in conversations which occur while cooking and eating meals, excursions to restaurants and local beauty spots, and so on. Secondary characters are introduced via these events, but very little happens for many pages. Because Astrid has grown up away from her werewolf community, Jack provides her with a lot of background information, which was of some interest to me as a reader and helped me understand how the different components of the story relate to one another. But the first half of the book is a slow read. For the most part, this is a love story, complete with steamy sex scenes and many tender moments. A secondary focus is on family relationships--forebears, parents and children, step-parents and step-children, siblings, and so on. The implacable enemy (whose name is Seth) lurks in the background for much of the book. Every now and then someone reminds the reader that he will have to be dealt with eventually. This confrontation occurs about three quarters of the way through the book. Astrid and Jack are sympathetic characters. But they are also utterly perfect, quite out of the league of flawed humans. She is a brilliant surgeon, competent in the use of various weapons, and can sing anything, including the coloratura soprano Queen of the Night aria from Mozart's opera The Magic Flute. She worries about a number of things, including Seth, but never really has to struggle to achieve her goals. Almost everyone she meets is on her side. I admit I know little about werewolves, but the little I know suggests that the origins of these creatures in legends contains dark and bloody elements. Almost nothing of this appears in this book. I found myself thinking these werewolves (and their fellow Langaer beings) were somewhat sanitized. No one kills animals or humans. No one drinks blood or devours raw flesh. And they take an awful lot of showers. Readers expecting grim or dark fantasy will likely be disappointed, but those who enjoy dramatic romance played out by beautiful characters in a beautiful world will probably enjoy the read. 3.5 stars, rounded up.
  • In Durleston Wood on Sep. 28, 2022

    This is a strange book, both intriguing and somewhat mystifying. Its description pretty much lays out the basic plot setup. Richard Hunter, the first-person narrator, is indeed a mess, both socially and psychically. He freely admits his state of depression and muddlement, often berating himself for his thoughts and actions. I found myself by turns impatient and sympathetic with him, and more than once did some mental eye-rolling. Perhaps that's a normal reaction to one who is a romantic and does not always act rationally. On the other hand, Richard's frequent visits to his aged father, and his appreciation of Chelsea, the care home employee who attends the father, are reassuring indications of his fundamental decency. Then there are the two women between whom Richard vacillates. I must say I didn't warm up to either of them. Davinia, the blond object of his apparently hopeless infatuation, is presented as a kind of ice princess. Some of her flirtatious conversations with Richard struck me as unlikely, but that may be due to the limitations of my perspective. The incident from which Richard rescues her is, I think, described in unnecessarily vague terms. Lillian, the prisoner of a man described as a "villain," is at best enigmatic, at worst a role-playing schemer. On the one hand, her situation demands sympathy, but her secretiveness did not generate enough trust to make me regard her as a sympathetic character. At times I wondered if the women were never meant to be fully-realized individuals, but instead represented "types" created to appeal to different aspects of Richard's personality. All that said, I read the book with interest, largely because I couldn't imagine how it might end. The lyrical descriptions of the setting, both the enchantments of the wood and its besmirching by intruders, are definitely worth reading. I recommend this book to readers of literary fiction who enjoy books that make them think and wonder.
  • Cats' Eyes, a Crazy Cat Lady Cozy Mystery #1 on Oct. 02, 2022

    This book has the classic elements of a cozy mystery--a main character with a niche interest a who is unintentionally drawn into investigating a crime, and a setting that is important to the story. Mollie Hunt has first-hand knowledge of what it takes to be a volunteer in a cat rescue organization, and she lives in Portland, Oregon. Crazy (sort of) cat lady Lynley Cannon volunteers at Friends of Felines in Portland. She has six cats of her own, plus a couple of fosters, so there's a lot of cat action in this book. A lot. Every one of Lynley's cats has a unique personality and a part to play in the story. There are also interesting details about what goes into operating the shelter and adoption service, from cleaning kennels to carrying out a large-scale rescue from a hoarding situation. Reading the book, I learned stuff about the relationships between shelters and humane society investigators, and the laws around such investigations. And each chapter starts with a short paragraph of information about cats. The cat-related parts of the plot actually surpassed the crime aspect of the story for me, maybe because the element of lived experience was missing from the latter. The criminals struck me as rather inept, and some of the plot elements didn't quite stick together. Lynley is a sympathetic main character, good natured and enthusiastic about her interests. Besides cats, she's keen on tracing her Scottish ancestry. A key scene happens at a highland games event. The theft of the two priceless chocolate diamonds (something else I learned about by reading this), puts Lynley through a number of harsh situations, physical, psychological, and legal. At times, though, that aspect of the story gets lost in Lynley's ramblings about her misspent youth, her family's history, and various sights and scenes around Portland. These side trips are interesting and sometimes funny, but more than once I found myself wondering why the characters weren't more concerned with details of the crimes and trying to reconstruct what really happened. Such details are fully revealed at the end, in what I might describe as a classic confrontation during the climactic scene. The story is wrapped up in a satisfying way. I recommend this heartwarming and informative book to mystery readers who also love cats or are at least cat-curious.
  • Grave-climbing: Sanctuary Series Book 2 on Dec. 10, 2022

    This book continues the epic story begun in Saving Sanctuary. The action spans the pilgrimage period of the following year, and a short period leading up to it. This time, we start in the capital city and the palace, which is not in that city but some distance from it. The confusion and turmoil of a palace coup attempt, and the investigations and repercussions are the main events, but woven into them are the personal ambitions, hopes, desires, and fears of characters from the first book, along with a host of new ones. While some crises are resolved in this book, there are hints of changes and troubles to come. I am still impressed with the breadth and depth of the plot and setting. The network of interpersonal relationships alone is huge, never mind references to history and discussions of customs, values, and spirituality. Another reviewer has described these books as "speculative ethnography," a term I think is quite appropriate. As in the first book, information is imparted in the form of sometimes lengthy conversations. It shouldn't work, but it does. I was happy to keep reading, and fully intend to read the third and fourth books in the series. These are long books, about 500k words each. My advice is to start with the first book, and to read steadily but without rushing. I read several other books along with this one, knowing it would take a while to work through it. As I came to know the characters and their situations, I was drawn into their world. The experience was analogous to watching a long-running TV series. I was always eager to find out what was happening in the fictional but fascinating country called Sanctuary.
  • The Prisoner of Cimlye on Dec. 27, 2022

    This book is an extended epilogue to Sailing to Redoubt. It picks up some (but not all) of the threads left hanging at the end of that book and ties them up. There are frequent references to situations and characters from the first book, which makes it absolutely necessary to have read that one first. The plot focusses on how Taef Lang must effect the escape of Lessie Raah from Cimlye Island. Much depends on Taef's cleverness and understanding of naval hierarchy. Then there's the matter of Lessie herself. I say no more, except that things work themselves out. As with Sailing to Redoubt, I loved the fictional setting of this book. It is richly developed and realistic. There is less sailing, but reminders of earlier voyages were satisfying. I definitely recommend this to readers who enjoyed the first book, and indeed recommend both to readers looking for a lighthearted adventure with a touch of romance.
  • The Thirteenth Gate (A Gaslamp Gothic Victorian Paranormal Mystery) on Jan. 12, 2023

    This is a rich pudding of a book. For one thing, it brings together two sets of characters from some of Ross's other books: Vivienne Cumberland and Alec Lawrence from the Fourth Element Trilogy, and Harry Pell and John Weston of the Gaslamp Gothic series. The settings are London, Cambridge, and New York City in the 1880s. Descriptions of these places are full of narrow streets, grim buildings, fine mansions, and lots of silk, velvet, and edged weapons. In true thriller style, there is a good deal of racing around among various scenes, but it is done in 19th century mode, in a variety of horse-drawn conveyances, by train, or by steamer. There is a murder mystery, ably solved by Harry, but the main concern is a host of supernatural beings, such as ghouls, necromancers, and daemons. Throw in an ancient Egyptian amulet, Jack the Ripper, rival book collectors, and a whole library's worth of esoteric tomes, and you have one engrossing read! The characters' inner lives and their relationships with one another are not forgotten, and add depth to the story. Historical details are carefully worked into the scenes so as to enrich rather than detract. But the world of this story is one in which the supernatural coexists with stark reality. For example, Scotland Yard forms a unit to prevent ghoul attacks after one threatens Queen Victoria! There's something here for fans of Holmes-like mysteries and lovers of the paranormal alike.
  • The Singing Loch on Jan. 17, 2023

    From the book's description: "This is a story about land, about those who own it and about those who dare to trespass upon it." It certainly is that, but it's also a love story and a thrilling adventure tale with a mystery at its heart. The author is an enthusiastic hill walker, and his lyrical descriptions of the landscapes of Scotland's Western Highlands reflect this. This is also a coming-of-age story. The narrator, Scott Matthews, is a young man dissatisfied with his career and love life. As he lurches from one awkward situation to another, the opportunities that present themselves and the choices he makes teach life lessons and bring a variety of rewards. I had the feeling Scott was telling the story several decades after the events occurred; it was a surprise to learn that he is only 27 years old. Moreover, at one point he says his parents are no longer living, but without any comment on what surely must have been premature deaths. The book begins with a prologue consisting of rather depressing thoughts about the greyness of urban life. Once through that and engaged with the story, I wondered what created this view in a young person who had lived in urban environments until a work assignment took him to rural Scotland. A bit more about Scott's family and early years might have explained this. Reservations aside, I heartily recommend this book to readers looking for a romantic adventure set in the Scottish Highlands.
  • Absolution: Sanctuary Book 3 on Feb. 12, 2023

    I remain fully immersed in this chronicle of life in Sanctuary, a fictitious and totally fascinating country. This book spans the months between September 2004 and the end of 2005. It begins with the aftermath of an attempted palace coup (which occurred in Book 2, Grave Climbing) and builds up to warfare between two of Sanctuary's neighbouring countries, which bleeds into Sanctuary itself. But there is way more in the narrative besides "historical" events. Each chapter focusses on one or more of the dozens of characters as they participate in the larger events and negotiate personal issues. The reader witnesses births and deaths, awkward courtships, and episodes of really funny banter among siblings. I appreciated that events from the previous two books are revisited in this one, as reminders and confirmations that I really had followed the overarching story. The list of characters at the end is also useful. This book also provides a closer look at what is involved in becoming a Master. (Masters are martial arts specialists who serve as combined security, police, and military for the country. Many of the main characters of the books belong to this group). Their training is probably similar to what practitioners of martial arts experience in the real world, but since I have limited (like almost no) knowledge of that, I admit to guessing. It was interesting to read about the struggles of one of the younger characters in this area, though. While some issues raised in the first two books are resolved in this one, there are many questions that remain unanswered, which means I will be reading the fourth and final book in the near future. I enthusiastically recommend the entire series to readers who like long, immersive books.
  • Winter on the Hill on Feb. 23, 2023

    "In fantasy, paradoxically, we can still tell the truth, without fearing the consequences." From the final chapter. The main character, Richard Jeager (or Yeager), is a self-confessed introvert, widowed, retired, disillusioned, lonely, embittered, and a bit paranoid. He lives in a possibly haunted former pub near the edge of the Lancashire moors, struggling to figure out how to spend his last decades, which he thinks are also the last gasps of civilization in Britain. Brexit is under way and the Covid19 pandemic arrives halfway through the book. There is indeed a lot about which to be angry, bitter, and anxious. Richard joins a walking group, returning to an activity he pursued in his youth. As one of the few men, he becomes a "babe magnet." Several women are interested in him, and introversion notwithstanding, Richard becomes interested in two of them, as companions if nothing more. But of course there is more. Even though Richard talks a lot about hill walking, access to rights-of-way, politics, philosophy, family history, economic decline, and the 2020 pandemic, he keeps circling back to sex. Having sex, not having it, with whom, how, and why. Or why not. Richard eventually develops relationships (of sorts) with the two women, first with athletic, no-nonsense Al (Alison), and later with the mysteriously silent Lottie. This is where I felt things slipped over into fantasy. Lottie and her circumstances struck me as a bit too good to be true. Maybe I missed or misread something, or maybe it's just that I haven't read Schopenhauer. Maybe this book is about the Eternal Feminine, even though it's Nietzsche, not Goethe, who makes an appearance among the ghosts in the former pub. Altogether, this is a philosophical novel. It's about a man's thought-processes as much as or more than events, conversations, and encounters. Graeme's prose is fluid and readable, often elegant. Richard's voice is engaging, self-deprecating, and witty, shifting easily from description to dialogue to self-analysis. He is unabashedly frank, occasionally venturing into TMI territory. "All introverts are liars. We have to be. God help us if we ever started speaking our minds." (p. 13; Ch. 2) "Anger is such a good crutch. It makes you feel like you're doing something, shouting. Without it, we have to find a way of walking properly again, unaided. Without it we have to fill the void with something else. With truth, maybe." (p. 335 of 374; Ch. 51) Descriptions of walking in the hills and moors have the ring of authenticity: "We have walked from the little Dales village of Malham, a short circular up the million steps by the cove, across the grey crenellated crazy-paved plane of clints and grikes that make up the cove-top, then a short pull up the green to Malham Rakes, and now down to Goredale. The sky is clear, but there's a steady wind with razor-blades in it, and a hint of rain from the North." (p. 167 of 374; Ch. 26) I admit Richard annoyed me at times, and I found the ending to be a bit self-indulgent, but I do recommend this book to readers who enjoy deep dives into a character's thoughts, and which may provoke thoughts in the reader.
  • Waterloo Sunset: Book 4 in Sanctuary Series on March 19, 2023

    A fitting conclusion to the Sanctuary saga. There are two main plot lines in this book. First, the incredible complications of getting married and forming a House in accordance with Sanctuary's laws and customs. A whole group of young people struggles to get it done and then to get along with one another. Parallel to this is a civil war in the country on the southern border, with hostile inputs from countries on either side. Things are complicated by the fact that a couple of players in the southern country's situation are related to Sanctuary's Royals. A host of new characters is introduced. The life stories of some of them are related in detail, which I found sometimes took me away from what was happening to characters I already knew. Sometimes a gripping situation is presented, but the next chapter jumps away in space or time, leaving the resolution to be figured out by the reader from passing references to it later. Unlike the preceding three books, this one contains a fair bit of sex. Not many sex scenes as such, and not graphic or obscene, but definitely frank discussions, including details about the rather grim lives of sex workers in the country undergoing the civil war. Ultimately, the book stitches together momentous events and highly personal ones into a narrative that held my interest to the end. I now say a fond farewell to Sanctuary and its people, and imagine their lives continuing into the second and third decades of this century.
  • A Rooster for Asklepios on April 04, 2023

    This book takes place in Asia Minor (present day Turkey) in the early months of the reign of Nero as Roman Emperor, so about 54 AD. But the story doesn't involve Nero or any dramatic historical events. Instead, the point-of-view character is Marcus, a young man who is a slave owned by a minor aristocrat, Lucius Coelius Felix. He is a fortunate slave in that his master treats him well. Because Marcus can read and calculate, he is responsible for helping Lucius with his business affairs. He is acutely aware of his low status even while functioning successfully in his role. But the main concern of this book is a journey the pair make to a shrine of Asklepios near Pergamon, where Lucius hopes to find healing from a persistent illness. The illness is debilitating and occasionally embarrassing; as a result the reader is often exposed to mentions of toilets, latrines, and the plumbing arrangements of the era. The pace of the book is leisurely, with many details about how things are done in Lucius's household, and the logistics of a long journey by carriage and a wagon, both pulled by pairs of mules. One thing that emerges is the vital importance of slaves to the economy of the time. They performed all of the manual labour and a large number of administrative tasks, accepting their slave status as their lot in life, while dreaming of the slim possibility that a benevolent master might grant them the status of freedman. Another revelation is the role of sacrificial animals. Lucius and Marcus visit a large number of temples of various gods and goddesses, and every time contribute at least one live animal to gain the deity's favour. The creatures are immediately slaughtered and cooked, thus providing meat for those attending the temple. There is a whole economy around sacrificial animals that is taken for granted by the characters, but certainly was a revelation to me. Indeed, the subject of religion plays an important role in the story. A number of the supporting characters are Jews, and their place in the Roman world is woven into the plot. Christianity is also touched upon, as a peculiar new cult that may cause trouble to established faiths. Altogether, this book is both educational and interesting. The author's expertise in the history of the time is clearly evident. There is little dramatic action, but the way the two main characters deal with a variety of challenges is engaging. I found myself hoping for the best for them, and fearing the worst. I came away from the book having learned about a time and place I knew nothing about before reading it, and hope to read the second book in the series at some point.
  • Keiree on May 01, 2023

    Imagine waking up to find that centuries have passed since you entered a state of suspended animation. Not months or even decades, but centuries. Seven of them. The mission to another planet never happened. You're still at home, but home has utterly changed. That's what happens to Gy Mons. The changed world is Mars, a terraformed, bio-engineered planet where rain happens on a schedule. Because of the plague, the population is much reduced, with many ghost towns and cities full of deserted buildings. Salvaging of technology from the before time is big business, and Gy's skills as a pilot may be in demand as well. But his first task is to find his wife Keiree, who was to be on the same interstellar mission as he, and who may still be in a stasis pod in some long-abandoned facility. As Gy pursues his search, the reader gets to travel along and discover the strangeness of this world. It's full of mysteries and possibilities: bio-engineered monsters, weird automata, nonconforming tribal cultures, and Gy's silka cat, Molly. She's an interesting character. This is a short novel that starts out feeling like a much longer one. The setting is intriguing, as is Gy's backstory. Unfortunately, it ends all too soon.
  • A Trail if By Sea on July 03, 2023

    I have never yet visited Haida Gwaii, where some of the scenes of this novel are set, but I am familiar with its other locales--the city of Victoria and the beaches, highways, and towns of Vancouver Island. That gave the book an extra appeal for me. The descriptions of scenery, sometimes viewed from the air and sometimes from sea, carry the flavour and ambience of Canada's west coast. Otherwise, this is a family drama. Perry Cropp has ended his "war-torn marriage" to Chie, a Vietnamese refugee with PTSD, and is struggling to adapt to his son Joe's transition to adult independence. When Joe vanishes from his job at a recreational fishing resort in Haida Gwaii, Perry begins a weeks-long odyssey to track him down, following intuitions and clues from his memories of Joe's childhood years. What I liked most about the book was its lively narrative voice. For the most part, it cleaves to Perry's thought processes, occasionally dipping into other characters' points of view. At the same time, the narrator's persona is separate and somewhat mischievous, sharing subtle comments and amused observations with the reader. For example: "He moved away from the mirror rather than watch his head explode." Or: "Perry Cropp chortled like a pleased rooster." Or: "All his held back anger spills out in blotchy language." Dialogue in sounds authentic and true to the various characters. In addition to the descriptions of places, it presents a genuine feel of coastal British Columbia culture and ambience. On the down side, there is a noticeable number of minor typos and errors, some unexplained tense shifts, and a formatting problem in a few chapters that (on my e-reader anyway), cut off ends of some lines on the right hand side of the screen. Those issues did not seriously interfere with my enjoyment of this distinctively written book. Full disclosure: I read early versions of some chapters several years ago when I was part of the same critique group as the author.
  • The Scarlet Thread (A Gaslamp Gothic Paranormal Mystery) on July 09, 2023

    Another fun read in the Gaslamp Gothic series. Harry and John are now a courting couple, but John is taken up with exams, leaving Harry to investigate a series of unexplained deaths of young high society women. As always, the setting is Manhattan in the Gilded Age. We have a vengeful ghost, hypnotism, visits to graveyards, a ball, and more details about the ever-fascinating James Moran. The book did not disappoint, except I thought some scenes involving digging up graves made the process seem way too easy. That aside, it was an entertaining book.
  • The Outlaw's Tale on July 19, 2023

    This was more medieval than mystery for the first half or even three-quarters of the book. The plot unfolds slowly, showing aspects of life in medieval England, such as the different social strata, daily life in a prosperous household, the status of outlaw, and various financial transactions. These details were interesting, and I appreciated Frevisse's steady temperament in dealing with unexpected situations, such as being kidnapped, Sister Emma's illness, and (finally), a murder and family complications. Tension doesn't really ramp up until the final pages, in which the murderer is revealed in a twist at the very end. I enjoyed both the historical details and the human drama, but the ending felt somewhat rushed and not altogether conclusive, in that there was no resolution for some of the characters whom I had come to care about.
  • A Lone Tree Falls on July 26, 2023

    This book is a meditation on a lost past and speculations about a possible future. It is also metafiction; each chapter begins with a description of what the reader will see, sometimes mentioning unreliable narrators, macguffins, and which genre the story belongs in. Once or twice, the narrator asks the reader whether they want to keep going. The tone of these introductions is playful, even when the content is serious. George Swift, the ex-spy and narrator, combines existential despair and self-deprecation with a kind of mischievous, winking knowingness, hinting at an ultimate Secret which he may or may not reveal. He engages in bouts of philosophizing about Zen mysticism and the occult tradition, often consulting Tarot cards. This is sometimes interesting and occasionally annoying, but the plot moves ahead nevertheless. George has never married and claims to be past being interested in romance. He claims that "girls" have never taken to him. And yet, in this phase of his life, as he tries to figure out what to do with himself, at least two women most definitely find him attractive. This is not a spy story to be read in a hurry seeking the payoff of an exciting climax. Rather, it's best approached as a series of dialogues and meditations on life choices and perspectives, with a story woven through it of obscure schemes and nefarious deeds in a country called Albion. One learns of the important distinction between a mystic and a magician. One meets a young woman who may be a witch, or possibly something even more interesting. An enjoyable excursion by boat along the canals of that country is a pleasant bonus.
  • The Bright Black Sea on Sep. 12, 2023

    What a great adventure this book is! It begins when Wil Litang becomes the acting captain of the spaceship Lost Star and ends... Well, I can't say how it ends, but in between both Wil and the reader experience perils, terror, love, more terror, curiosity, weirdness, and everything but boredom. All right, maybe Wil experiences boredom at times, but not the reader. The Lost Star is the space equivalent of a tramp steamer. Its voyages and the way it's managed have a lot in common with marine commerce here on Earth. But this story takes place eons in the future in a star system far away from Earth. Terra is a faint and distant memory to the characters of this book. They speak in terms of hundreds of centuries. Ships are thousands of years old. The threat of sentient machines taking over has already happened and has been (for the most part) resolved. The characters are human and relatable, especially Captain Wil and his crew (whom he calls "the gang"). Space travel is treated as normal and routine, with references to engines and other systems that sound totally plausible. This gives a solid foundation to the story, with dramatic intrigues, secrets, pirates, and a wandering assassin providing lots of excitement. I can't recommend this book more enthusiastically to readers who enjoy science fiction and nautical adventures. Or to anyone else, for that matter. And I've already downloaded the sequel.
  • Milk Blossom Pushes Free on Oct. 01, 2023

    When I acquired this book, I expected it to be about a third-generation actress creating a one-woman play in which she channels Sarah Bernhardt. Instead, I got an extremely close look at Ruby's thought processes, over nearly 300 pages. It didn't help that I didn't much like Ruby, who struck me as self-indulgent and apt to make bad choices (although sometimes with good reason). There is relatively little in the book about the life of an actor in 21st century post-pandemic New York, although places in that city are frequently mentioned. A few secrets are revealed in the course of the book. One of them came just in time to prevent me from declaring DNF. I persisted to the end, despite frequent inexplicable jumps from first person to to third person narration within Ruby's point of view, and a lot of wallowing in her emotions, which, although quite realistic, became tedious. The story consists of a series of loosely-connected scenes, most of which feature Ruby mulling over her play, her mother, and whether to marry Monte and have a baby. A trip to Providence, RI in a snowstorm was interesting, introduced some appealing characters, and seemed to promise more substance, but Ruby's return to New York was also a return to emotional mulling. Readers who appreciate a deep and detailed dive into a woman's emotional life may enjoy this book more than I did.
  • Telling Sonny on Feb. 16, 2024

    I was and remain impressed by the amount and quality of research the author must have done in order to write this book. Ordinary life in the 1920s is presented with a wealth of detail. Brand names, song titles, and technology transport the reader to the eastern US a century ago. World War I is a recent memory; World War II has yet to happen. The novel is a spotlight on the vaudeville business, which is in its death throes but doesn’t yet know it. As the two main characters travel from New England to the South, always by train, the reader is right there with them, feeling the rhythms of the rails and overhearing the anecdotes of fellow travellers, which are related using the slang and idiom of the period. From cheap hotel rooms to rooming houses, we see the furniture and wallpaper, and the views from a succession of grimy windows. Atlantic City, especially, is presented in vivid and even shocking detail. Against this wonderfully rendered background are the characters. Faby, whose story this is, has grown up in a loving family. Although terribly naïve, she is curious and observant. As the book opens, she does not appear eager to venture beyond her small Vermont village, but she does delight in the spectacle of the travelling vaudeville show that comes every summer. When she meets the glib hoofer Slim White, it’s his role as a performer that fascinates her, rather than the man himself (whose utterances often read like slick advertising copy). Unfortunately, that distinction doesn’t save her from the events that derail her life. Launched into pregnancy and marriage, Faby accompanies her new husband, whose real name, she learns, is Louis, from one gig to another along the Eastern Seaboard. In a succession of towns, she explores, observes, and writes reviews of the performances she attends. There are hints of an emerging writer or journalist in Faby, but as her pregnancy progresses, life on the road becomes difficult. Choices her husband makes without consulting her land her back home, where her role is no longer clear. Essentially, this book is about the expectations around the roles of women, and what happens when an individual’s situation does not match them. Faby’s story is a sad coming-of-age, precisely because of a chain of events not of her choosing. The writing style is crisp and competent. Descriptions are precise and unflinching. I recommend this book to readers who enjoy literary fiction and to anyone interested in the 1920s and vaudeville.
  • Julian Lackland on Feb. 24, 2024

    This fantasy, set in a medieval world reminiscent of western Europe, combines action and relationships in a story that should appeal to fans of adventure stories. The title character, Sir Julian Lackland, the last good knight, carries out missions in distant places and struggles with unrequited love and personal demons. Mixed with these matters is a great deal of warmhearted banter, music, and revelry. The pacing is uneven; sometimes weeks or months go by between one paragraph and the next. Also, I thought some of the planned missions are accomplished rather too easily, but this is more or less balanced by unintended consequences that present a greater challenge to the dauntless warrior. 3.5 stars, rounded up.
  • War Bunny on Feb. 28, 2024

    This is a different kind of post-apocalyptic adventure. For one thing, there are no humans; it seems we have been done in by whatever apocalypse lies in its past. The main characters are rabbits, just like in Richard Adams' Watership Down, but the situation here is quite different. A rabbit questions her status as a prey animal and decides to do something about that. Perils are ever-present, and when bunnies, mice, and squirrels team up to fight back, the threats against them increase. In addition to the adventure, this story asks questions about the use of violence, the role of religion, and how fundamental social change can be made. But it is certainly not all serious and grim. There are quirky personalities and goofy humour, like raccoons whose names are those of present-day drugs. Cougars party and get drunk on fermented apples. The animals make use of remnants of human civilization, such as metals and plastics. An inventive "craftrat" makes a living by turning these items into useful objects and selling them for actual coins, which everyone values. I enjoyed these details, which were reminders of the lost human world. I also noticed the great variety of plants encountered and eaten by the rabbits and others. They suggest a semi-tropical climate, even though there are hints that the setting is somewhere in the present-day province of Quebec. Most intriguing. Then there are the quotations from bunny scriptures, which are reminiscent of the Bible, but quite weird. The Book of Fescue. The Book of Kale. Each group of animals has its own maxims and sayings, usually in the form of rhymes. This adds a whimsical touch. Other elements are those of the importance of community and friendship, and coming-of-age. Although the characters are animals, they represent a variety of human types, so it's easy to relate to them. Rather sinister is the idea that the biggest, most powerful carnivores play the role of landlords and owners of the forest, with the smaller creatures owing them "rent" in the form of their lives. Altogether, this book gives the reader plenty of thrills, but also provokes some ideas worth pondering. I'm curious to know how things develop in the next book.
  • Code Blues on March 05, 2024

    I liked this book because the medical stuff was informed by the author's real experience. Hope Sze, the main character, is well developed and memorable, often for her less than admirable qualities. She's sarcastic and judgmental. She makes some bad decisions, but acknowledges that and learns from the consequences. Secondary characters are also distinctive and memorable. The pace ranges from brisk to frenetic. As a mystery, this is no police procedural; the cops are pretty much invisible. Hope and her colleagues discuss the case and do some investigating on their own, but the main focus is on the psychological effect of the murder on the group of first year residents. Hope's reaction to Alex is a case study of lust at first sight; this contributes to the plot, turning the story into a combination of mystery and psychological thriller. I found myself thinking about the book between reading sessions, and was totally engaged with it all the way. To me, that's a 5-star read.
  • The Lost Star's Sea on April 04, 2024

    The action in this book takes place not in the black seas of space, but in a strange world of floating islands and perpetual light. Wil Litang drifts through this realm in a series of flying ships, some propelled by steam engines, so I suppose that makes this a sort of steampunk story. It is certainly an adventure story, with one perilous situation after another. Wil's companions are a motely group, including a couple of dragons and a would-be assassin. Each of the main characters is distinctive and memorable, and most of them follow their own arcs of experience and transformation. I found myself thinking about the book between reading sessions, was always eager to return to it, and felt at loose ends when I finished it. There were quite a few small errors in the version I read, but the author does request readers to notify him of such problems so he can correct them. The book is described as bringing Wil's story to a conclusion, but the ending felt somewhat inconclusive to me, as though yet another volume is needed. I would certainly be on board with reading it.
  • Reviviscence on April 16, 2024

    This book continues and probably completes the story begun in Spoliation. A team of three (Commodore Jonas Stryker, Federation investigator Janice Hardy, and Australian police detective Rex Houghton) work under the guidance of the powerful and knowledgeable General Hanson to find and track down the shadowy Board that threatens the stability of the global Federation. There are two battles in space, which add some drama, but realism is supplied by showing how tedious and thankless the work of bringing criminals to justice can be. There are more meetings and discussions than shoot-outs (although a few of those happen too). There are many false starts and disappointments before key pieces of information are acquired. I was impressed by the emphasis throughout on communication, negotiation, leadership, and the importance of evidence. The scenes in space are based solidly in science; an afterword provides some further explanation. The prose is straightforward but unpolished, but the action moves along steadily to a satisfying conclusion.
  • King of Cups on May 11, 2024

    When I selected this book, I overlooked that it's a romance. I was intrigued by the unlikely combination of the tarot reference in the title and ice hockey, along with the fact that the main character is a private investigator. Those elements combine to produce a story that's interesting and different, but there's no doubt that it's a romance. Dialogue is one of the strongest aspects of this book. It conveys character perfectly, whether it's between siblings or among a group of hockey players. I felt I was right there, watching the characters interacting. But the main focus is on emotions, specifically those of struggling private investigator Eloise and hockey star Jacques. Every nuance of their feelings is presented in detail, with a deft use of metaphor and simile. For example: "Love was an open palm even when it had once been a closed fist," and "Love was warm water that could cleanse you or close over your head." All kinds of love show up in this story: family love, self love, married love, the love among teammates. This enriches the plot and takes it beyond a simple love story. At the same time, the narrative commentary is a bit excessive. Sometimes I felt as though the narrative voice was that of a psychologist doing a play-by-play on the relationships as they developed, stumbled, failed, and recovered. Just like what happens in the sport at the centre of the story. Despite this, the book was an enjoyable and diverting read.
  • Raven's Lament on May 21, 2024

    This book has the ambitious goal of weaving a contemporary love story with a traditional Haida story. The author appears to have taken a serious and respectful attitude toward the language, traditions, and history of the Haida people. The story is set on Haida Gwaii (formerly called the Queen Charlotte Islands). A present-day journalist travels to the islands to investigate the felling of the Golden Spruce (an actual event). He feels a strange link to the place and its people, especially to a woman named Chelen and her uncle Charlie, a shaman. Their story is combined with the tale of Kiidk'yaas and Raven the trickster. I have to admire the audacity of this writing project. The author does a fairly good job of combining the elements into a story that held together and kept me reading. The prose edges into melodrama at times, and some of the the joking and joshing between Brook and Charlie seems out of synch with what is happening around them. Unfortunately, Chelen loses her autonomy about three quarters of the way through the book and becomes a helpless woman who needs to be rescued. These issues aside, I thought this was an interesting read. 3.5 stars, rounded up.