Book Review: Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr (three stars)

Book Review: Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr (three stars)

“Why stay here when I could be there?”

Fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, myth. Six protagonists in four threads, plus the inciting Greek myth. After an interest-grabbing opening, meanders through excruciating world and character building. Quit once but forced myself through it. It has a very satisfying conclusion, but readers with long to-read lists may wish to skip it.

“Each of these books, child, is a door, a gateway to another place and time. You have your whole life in front of you, and for all of it, you’ll have this. It will be enough, don’t you think?” 

Good support for the Doerr‘s premise that no book—no matter how trivial—should be lost. Reflects an incredible effort but doesn’t quite hit the target. Award winning? Not nearly. Not up to the quality of his All the Light We Cannot See. Extra credit for finishing his tale in one go.

‘As he reconstructs Zeno’s translation, he realizes that the truth is infinitely more complicated, that we are all beautiful even as we are all part of the problem, and that to be a part of the problem is to be human.’

Quibbles: five cell phone rings come faster than that. Essential (to plot) people would have died. Titanium is incredibly hard; no metal capable of being formed as she made her ax would have dented it.

“Sometimes the things we think are lost are only hidden, waiting to be rediscovered.”

Book Review: Wakulla Springs by Andy Duncan (five stars)

Book Review: Wakulla Springs by Andy Duncan, Ellen Klages (five stars)

“Do you believe everything your Mama tells you?” “Not by half. But she did raise me to have respect for the traditions other folks hold store in.” 

Outstanding mix of history, art, consciousness, and a touch of fantasy. Florida’s massive freshwater springs and the adjacent tourist lodge serve as the backdrop for a series of related stories about residents. Hollywood, invasive species, and human rights contribute to the mix.

“The thin cotton of her dress sticking to her back, damp as if she was laundering it from the inside out.” “so hot and heavy with pride that he might have burned through the boards and dropped into the river hissing and steaming.” “Wasn’t really a whisper, more like a breath with a thought inside it.”

Duncan voices sparkling turns of phrase to describe the setting and people. Dialects are emphasized for a reason.

‘“Sorry, suh. I didn’ mean nothin’ by it.” Daniel had gone to the A&M for two years … but he could sure talk field-hand mushmouth when he had to.’

Book Review: The Builders by Daniel Polansky (Three Stars)

Book Review: The Builders by Daniel Polansky (Three Stars)

“… as amoral as a loaded gun.”

If Joe Abercrombie had written The Wind in the Willows. Typical swords and sorcery fantasy, but with all characters familiar animals, mostly mammals. A few playing against stereotype.

“He’s fast.” “How fast?” “Slower than a bolt of lightning. Somewhat quicker than a hummingbird’s wing.”

Well done, but readers put off by Abercrombie violence are forewarned.

“A soul utterly remorseless, without conscience or scruple. But that is nature’s fault, and not the stoat’s; the stoat is what it has been made to be, as are we all.”

Book Review: “The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat” by Brooke Bolander (Three Stars)


Book Review: “The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat” by Brooke Bolander

(Three Stars)

“To see it would have burst your heart, and then they would have eaten what was left of you.”

Something of a farce. Fun to the point of being silly. Like a one-line joke extended into a story.

“Glamour never worked on cats. They saw right through the Princess’s spell, recognized the kindred hunters beneath, and found pressing reasons to be elsewhere.”

2019 Short Story Hugo Award finalist. Published in Uncanny Magazine 23, July-August 2018.

“It was a good life, sprinkled with just the right amount of companionship and just the right amount of solitude, and none of them ever regretted their choices, which was a fine way to grow old if you can manage the trick.”

Book Review: Element of Fire by Martha Wells (Four Stars)


Book Review: Element of Fire (Ile-Rien #1) by Martha Wells

(Four Stars)

“I have no regrets, except perhaps my choice of allies.” “And your choice of enemies?”

This freshman work shows elements of Martha Wells’ future style. Not quite four stars, but Wells gets extra credit because this was her first novel. Wells has turned the Ile-Rien stories into a franchise, presumably the subsequent ones are more polished.

“We’re going to be roasted. And eaten.” “Quit sniveling.”

Foreshadows the snarky humor which makes Continue reading

Book Review: Imager’s Challenge by L. E. Modesitt Jr. (Four Stars)


Book Review: Imager’s Challenge (Imager’s Portfolio #2) by L. E. Modesitt Jr.

(Four Stars)

“I’m being pushed into doing things I’d rather not do because the alternatives are worse.” “Sometimes, that’s life.”

Better than the first Imager story. First person point of view makes for a decidedly linear plot, but the action moves better in this second episode. This volume lacks the epigrams which headed each chapter in Imager.

“What we do … is not all that we are, nor all that we could be. Reading opens one’s eyes to the possibilities.”

Modesitt takes us into the musings of someone who follows the tenets of a religion he doubts, defends a country he’s sure isn’t perfect, loves people who are flawed, and represents a body of people even as he disagrees with its leaders.

“No matter what you do, someone’s unhappy. And the better you do it, Continue reading

Book Review: Shadows of God by J. Gregory Keyes (Four Stars)


Book Review: Shadows of God (Age of Unreason #4) by J. Gregory Keyes

Four Stars

“It is a short step from having a djinn who serves you to having a god you must beg for favors.”

Keyes redeemed himself with this series-closing story. His particular alternate history was closed in both a satisfying and a consistent way. Good storytelling. Readers not inclined to read all four books of this series won’t miss much by reading one and four.

“… as unaware as a pen of what it writes on the page.”

Inevitably this series will be compared with Eric Flint’s sprawling alternate universe which opens with 1632. The premise of this series works better and is developed more logically. Both are exercises in imagining “what if”.

“If you are no magician, how will you kill him?” “Carefully, Tsar, carefully.”

Quibbles Muskets are not that accurate, no matter who is shooting them. Black powder smoke is white.

“All my old selves follow me as ghosts.”

Book Review: The Stone in the Skull by Elizabeth Bear (Two Stars)


Book Review: The Stone in the Skull (Lotus Kingdoms #1) by Elizabeth Bear

Two Stars

“We’re not the heroes of the story. We’re those guys who wander in during the third act to pick up the dirty work.”

A pleasant excursion into a world analogous to southern Asia before the British spoiled the local fun. Don’t read the blurb; it reveals too much backstory about the cauled sun and other phenomena of this world, robbing the reader of wonder and discovery.

“Duty above anything else. And then the lifetime regret for choices untaken.”

Decent character and world building. Enough strands that, at first, the reader is adrift. Enough point of view characters to bring the reader into the story without Continue reading

Book Review: Skullsworn by Brian Staveley (Four Stars)


Book Review: Skullsworn (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne 0.5) by Brian Staveley

Four Stars

“I couldn’t see inside their heads. I could barely make out what was going on inside my own.”

Don’t let the numerical designation fool you, this is a complete novel, not a short story. Despite expectations triggered by the title, a worthwhile novel about life.

“We are all dying, all the time. Being born is stepping from the cliff’s edge. The only question is what to do while falling.”

An action-adventure fantasy with all the blood and gore expected of the genre, but also an investigation into Continue reading

Book Review: The Disappearance of Winter’s Daughter by Michael J. Sullivan (Four Stars)


Book Review: The Disappearance of Winter’s Daughter (Riyria Chronicles #4) by Michael J, Sullivan

Four Stars

“Are you two always like this?” “He is,” they both said in unison.

Perhaps the best Riyria book yet. Both Royce and Hadrian have more depth. Their relationship is more complex. The storytelling, especially the inner dialogue, is superb. Several distinct and distinctive female characters. Sullivan clearly signals changes in point-of-view character. Why not five stars? See my quibble.

“You just hate being happy.” “I have no idea. What’s it like?”

For those unfamiliar with Riyria (Royce and Hadrian) the fourth book of the second series seems the wrong place to try them out. Not so. Winter’s Daughter is a self-contained, rich Continue reading