Movie Review: Jumanji: The Next Level, directed by Jake Kasdan (Two Stars)


Movie Review: Jumanji: The Next Level, directed by Jake Kasdan

(Two Stars)

Disappointing. Had the same wacked-out plot structure as Jumanji: Into the Jungle and much the same cast. Danny DeVito was a welcome addition. Lots of inside jokes and some healthy relationship vibes.

But the tone of the movie is, presumably intentional, grittier. For one thing the offensive language is much more and more noticeable.

Book Review: Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis (Five Stars)

Book Review: Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold by C. S. Lewis

(Five Stars)

“Why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?”

The best fiction Lewis wrote. Totally different than both his space trilogy and the Narnia books. Not so much overtly Christian as universal, pondering the deeper questions of life. Setting his story in a pre-Christian time and culture, Lewis forces us outside the comfort of what we think we know: to examine ourselves, even as we judge or sympathize with Orual

“And we said we loved her.” “And we did. She had no more dangerous enemies than us.”

I noted three pages of quotes with which to support this review, but find myself unable to include more than Continue reading

Book Review: Elias and the Legend of Sirok by Edward G. Kardos (Three Stars)


Book Review: Elias and the Legend of Sirok by Edward G. Kardos

(Three Stars)

“So now what? What do you think I should do?” “Elias, don’t ask me. Ask yourself.”

Published in 2013, this was the seed for The Amulet – Journey to Sirok, published in 2017. Kardos suggests you start with the final story; I agree. Rough and repetitious, but shows promise.

“It is the natural order of things. It is the way of being one. One nature, one heart, and one soul. It is about being who you are.”

An allegory of the Pilgrim’s Progress ilk, though with a muddled message. More about self-actualization than finding truth. Quasi-medieval setting with many cultural and geographic references to Hungary.

“We allow our victim to destroy himself. Most of mankind does not need help from anyone or anything to destroy who they are.”

Kardos touts following one’s heart, but also tries to create a theistic if not Christian work. Hard to have it both ways. The Bible, believe it or not, is ambivalent. “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) “Follow righteousness, faith, love, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” (2 Timothy 2:22) I’ll leave sorting that to the theologians.

“It is only when you are empty that you may become full.”

Book Review: Amáne of Teravinea by D. Maria Trimble (Three Stars)


Book Review: Amáne of Teravinea: The Chosen One by D. Maria Trimble

(Three Stars)

“Ever since I can remember, I’d aspired to be brave and strong; to have a mission in life; to be worthy of a quest. But one problem plagued me—I was born a girl.”

A fun fantasy for young readers. Good story with a good heart. Lots of teen angst; little humor. Clunking, amateur writing.

“Gallen anticipated my reaction. He ducked just in time to avoid the spray of tea that spewed from my mouth. ‘Next time you have alarming news to tell her, you could at least refrain from telling her at meal times?’”

If Amáne’s mother and the Healer had any inkling she might be the Chosen One, you’d think they would have trained her and watched her. For who and what they were, they were Continue reading

Book Review: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novil (Four Stars)


Book Review: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novil

(Four Stars)

“For a moment I felt her a sister, our lives in the hands of others. She wasn’t likely to have any more choices in the matter than I did.”

Well-constructed fairy tale. Three female protagonists, two of whom had such similar voices that the reader occasionally must seek clues elsewhere. Interesting supporting cast, with enough humanity and inhumanity to compel and thrill.

“I had not known I was strong enough to do any of these things until they were over and I had done them.”

Draws deeply on Russian and Jewish cultures, but tells her own tale. Intricate plot, occasionally overlapping and backtracking to the point that the reader must puzzle out whose view point the story, always first person, is being told from.

“But it was all the same choice, every time. The choice between the one death and all the little ones.”

2019 Best Novel Hugo Award finalist

Book Review: “The Court Magician” by Sarah Pinkser (Four Stars)


Book Review: “The Court Magician” by Sarah Pinkser

(Four Stars)

“Would you like to learn real magic?” The boy snorts. “There’s no such thing.”

Excellent short story. As with the best of any genre, it is compact and forceful. Little fluff; lots of misdirection.

“The Guild is for magicians who feel the need to compete with each other. The Palace trains magicians who feel compelled to compete against themselves.” It’s perhaps the truest thing I’ll ever tell him.

Read it at one sitting; it’s short enough. Let yourself go to the power and flow of the narrator. It increases the final impact.

“Is magic only a trick I haven’t figured out yet?”

(2019 Hugo Short Story Award finalist. Published in Lightspeed magazine. January 2018)

Book Review: The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie (Four Stars)


Book Review: The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie

(Four Stars)

“Why ought I care about this time, these humans in particular? When I know all are doomed to end no matter what, and shortly, from my point of view.”

Excellent story despite being told in second person. That awkward point of view masked the identity of addressed character, even though hints started on the first page. Second person introduces many difficult phrases, as the narrator tells the addressed their thoughts and motives.

“But any god might be made more powerful with the right offering. And one of the best offerings–as any Iradani knows–is a human sacrifice. Even better if that sacrifice is voluntary and self-committed, just as the Raven’s Lease is.”

Two overlapping stories, starting at different times, build toward a climax when the story lines converge. Good world and character building with few anachronisms. I especially liked the development of Eolo, who is neither a weapon expert nor a genius but possesses more common sense than anyone else. Excellent pacing.

“Yes, they trained me as though I were a dog, with attention and treats and constant praise. But I trained them as well.”

Leckie managed a new take on the SF/F cliché: “I don’t know if you realized you were holding your breath.” (That sentence also hints at the verbal gymnastic second-person narrative forces.) Also a few old saws like, “Gods are, as a rule, more easily able to help those who have already made their own efforts.” (Ben Franklin said it better.)

“The ancient gods are, I have been told, difficult to kill.”

Book Review: “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies,” by Alix E. Harrow (Two Stars)


Book Review: “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies,” by Alix E. Harrow

(Two Stars)

“In grad school, they called it “ensuring readers have access to texts/materials that are engaging and emotionally rewarding,” and in my other kind of schooling, they called it ‘divining the unfilled spaces in their souls and filling them with stories and starshine,’ but it comes to the same thing.”

Wanted to like this, but couldn’t get past the self-satisfied hubris of the protagonist. She seems to feel that having a heart makes up for having no brains. Expect great writing from Harrow someday. This is well-written, but as subtle as a ton of bricks.

“I teetered, the way you do when you’re about to do something really dumb.”

Not only does she violate the norms of society, but breaks the rules of her witches group. Surely they have people and procedures for identifying and shepherding candidates, other than giving them a gun and hoping they didn’t shoot themselves with it? She endangers a youth just to feel good?

“If you want justice and goodness to prevail in this world, you have to fight for it tooth and nail. And it will be hard, and costly, and probably illegal. You will have to break rules.”

Excellent narrative voice and characterization. Too obviously correct cultural cues. Right-thinking readers will applaud her heavy-handed politics. Readers who think for themselves may be offended that Harrow insists on thinking for them. Not to mention her ‘winning is all that matters’ attitude.

“I wondered … how rogue librarians spent their time, and whether they had clubs or societies, and what it was like to encounter feral stories untamed by narrative and unbound by books. Then I wondered where our Books came from in the first place, and who wrote them.”

(2019 Short Story Hugo Award finalist; published in Apex Magazine, February 2018)

Book Review: “If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again” by Zen Cho (Four Stars)


Book Review: “If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again” by Zen Cho

(Four Stars)

“You get used to being a failure. It was too early to tell her that.”

Excellent. Based on Korean mythology, Cho draws the reader into the mind of an aspiring imugi. Aspiring to be what? That’s the story.

“You couldn’t study something for 3,000 years without becoming interested in it for its own sake.”

Sparse description augmented by the protagonist’s musings and dialogue with humans. Well done.

“Couldn’t take it. Not now, not after … I’m not brave enough to fail again.” “I know.”

(2019 Best Novelette Hugo Award Finalist, published by B&N SFF Originals)

Book Review: “The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society” by T. Kingfisher (Five Stars)


Book Review: “The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society” by T. Kingfisher

(Five Stars)

“Is this what it’s like when they pine away after us?” “We are not pining!”

Slightly ribald version of the shaggy dog story. Riotously indirect. I’ve already told you too much; read it. (Cover art is Uncanny Magazine 25, November-December 2018, in which the story appears.)

“I’ll tell you all about it when you’re older.” She paused, looking down at the stubborn little face. “Much … much older.”

(Finalist 2019 Hugo Award for Short Story)