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Fred Saberhagen

R.A. Salvatore

The Icewind Dale Trilogy
Book One: The Crystal Shard

Book Two: Streams of Silver

Book Three: The Halfling's Gem

crystal shardstreams of silverthe halfling's gemThe first published book by R. A. Salvatore. Features the usual band of idiots in a fantasy setting. A bumbling apprentice stumbles upon a magical relic, that makes him powerful beyond his imaginings. With visions of glory he sets about to become the master of the universe. With elves, dwarves, giants, barbarians and all manner of clichés a good time is had by all. Bad guys bite the dust by the dozen, and the good guys count the bodies.

In the second installment of The Icewind Dale Trilogy, Drizzt and his buddies chase after Regis the halfling thief. Once again bodies are flying and clichés abound in this fast paced adventure. It's not all fluff and sugar, there are other issues as well, but this was solid contribution to a very good series so far.

The third book is another solid fantasy adventure. The merry band of idiots assemble again, this time to find the lost home of Bruenor the dwarf. Drizzt the good bad elf, along with his seven foot barbarian buddy bonk a few beans, and generally manage to touch on all of the touch stones of a truly enjoyable adventure. Nothing in here to hurt the brain, but it was fun.

Reviewed February 2000

Spearwielder's Tale
Book One
: The Woods Out Back
Book Two:
The Dragon's Dagger
Book Three: Dragonslayer's Return

woods out backThe Dragon's Daggerdragonslayer's returnAnother one of those "taken from reality to another land" books.  Salvatore is a good storyteller, and I've enjoyed his other books.  For some reason as enjoyable as this book was it somehow felt flat, and uninspired.  Features the usual quest, an elf, a dwarf, a giant, a dragon, a witch, and all that jazz.  Still, it fed my brain for a couple of days, and provided me with a good solid, if not overly imaginative, read.

Okay, so I immediately started reading the sequel.  I got the feeling this series would pick up speed.  Did I mention that there's a leprechaun too?

And pick up speed it did.  Much better this time around . . . either that or I was too hard on the first book.  My only real beef was how the whole "pot of gold" thing was handled.  This was a major part of the story, and was poorly foreshadowed in the first book, and awkwardly resolved in this book. But, that being said, this was a very solid adventure story.

. . . and right into the final book.  Taken on the whole, this was a very good series.  Picked up speed the whole way through, and used all of the typical touchstones one expects in good fantasy.  There were a couple of nice moments all in all, but somehow the connection between the main characters was a little flat.  Still, if you like fantasy in the grand no brainer tradition these books won't disappoint.

Reviewed June 1999

John Saul

Guardian

guardianWhen Joey's parents pass away unexpectedly, his Mom's best friend becomes his guardian. Pretty soon people start dropping like flies, and it doesn't help that Joey is a weird kid to top it off. Could Joey be the monster, or is there something else lurking in the hills? Oooh scary stuff huh kids (long live Count Floyd)? The story falls into the realm of silly, but it's a fun silly, and the pages burned by just about as fast as I could turn them. I'll bet that in six months I won't remember a thing about this book, but while it lasted I was totally engrossed.

Reviewed June 7, 2000

The Blackstone Chronicles (©1997)

guardianWritten originally is the same serialized manner as Stephen King's The Green Mile, The Blackstone Chronicles follows the events of a fictional small town, and the eerie goings on as the town prepared to restore the spooky old Asylum on top of the hill.

The ensuing six stories are braided as you would expect, and each story relates to a mysterious object that arrives on some poor unsuspecting soul that soon has everyone in the town jabbering about what is going on.

Who is the dark stranger seen lurking about the Asylum? What is going on? All is revealed in time, and there really aren't any surprises. It has been said that poor Mister Saul is the poor man's Stephen King - which may be true. Of the few things I've read, his work never carries the same emotional punch. However, he is a solid story teller, and it was more entertaining than many things I've filled my head with over the years.

Reviewed June 23, 2005

Robert J. Sawyer

Illegal Alien

illegal alienA wonderful surprise. I found the hardcover for 50 cents at one of those table sales. I left it in my back pack as my "emergency" book. Low and behold I was riding the train, and I went to dig out the book I was reading and to my horror I couldn't find it anywhere. Oh well, I had my book of last resort.

I cracked it open and started to read. You could almost hear the sucking sound as I was drawn into the book. This book is a first contact story, a murder mystery, and a court room drama all packed into one story. Remarkably the author pulls it off without coming across as too maudlin. There were some O.J. digs in here too.

Now, this is one of those stories that you can poke some holes in if you want, but why? Have some fun, let your imagination go for a ride.

Reviewed October 1999

Authur Sellings

The Power of X (©1970)

authur sellingsSometimes I just pick things up for fun. The Power of X is one of those books I didn't expect much from, and it ended up overdelivering on my expectations. There's actually a pretty cool idea running through this book. A recent discovery called "Plying" can produce duplicates of an original article that are identical to the original. So much so that there's no way to tell them apart. Of course it is absolutely forbidden to make copies of people.

Meet our young hero. Max is a young man who by accident discovers that he can tell the difference between a copy and an original by touching it. Well, it doesn't take long before our hero suddenly finds himself in deep trouble after discovering that the president has been copied. Not to put in a spoiler but there are some nifty ideas in the book, and I found myself really enjoying the ride.

In all an enjoyable ride while it lasted.

Reviewed January 8, 2008

Tom Sharpe

The Great Pursuit

the great pursuitA strange and funny story about the publishing world and the general decay of literature.  An anonymous manuscript, a pathetic want-to-be writer, and a silicon enhanced wife all point to a very fun read.  I've been told that this isn't even one his better books.  I'll have to keep my eyes open for others.

Reviewed May 1999

Vintage Stuff (©1982)

vintage stuffTom Sharpe is a really funny and twisted man. His characters border on sublime and the scenarios he pulls out of his imagination are wicked. Vintage Stuff is laugh out loud at times. Pegging Sharpe's central figures is a bit of a chore since he meshes them all together.

The linchpin here is a rather unique young man Peregrine Clyde-Browne - a young man with a singular talent for following instructions exactly. A young man who has no middle ground - the world is a literal place, and a phrase like "Go jump in lake" is followed to the letter.

Of course along the way Mister Sharpe weaves a fine story involving a French Chateau, and English boarding school, and an old instructor who fancies himself a hero.

If that doesn't make much sense that's okay - trust me - this is some pretty clever and funny stuff.

Reviewed September 12, 2004

The Midden (©1996)

the middenTom Sharpe is one seriously gifted man. How anyone can envision the twists and turns and situations he pulls out of his head is beyond me. No seriously, it really is beyond me. With The Midden, we have an assorted cast of characters who are all a little bit off, and are all drawn together through a series of little accidents. There are enough kinks and twists to the plot here, that it makes a pretzel look like a banana.

Ordinarily I'd make some half assed attempt at describing the plot, or the story, or at least the main characters - but the story has so much going on, that I'm actually feeling tired at the thought of trying to distill the story down into a couple of sentences. So I won't. Hell, this isn't a homework assignment, it's a review. And not just any review - it's MY review, so I can do whatever I bloody well feel like doing.

So here's my compromise. I'll rate the book. It's better than average, and while not exceptional, it was a heck of a fun ride while it lasted. That mister Sharpe fellow is just that.

I'll be looking for more of his stuff for sure.

Reviewed after a fashion July 2004

William Shatner

Man O' War

man o' warSomebody tell me what the attraction to this guy's work is.  I will admit to reading all of the Tek novels (which were most likely ghosted by Ron Goulart) and got a guilty pleasure out of them.  This novel falls into the same category.  A fun read, lots of nicely fleshed out two dimensional characters, and a hero that reminds me of a certain captain.  Sadly, if I find its sequel Law O' War on sale in the remainder section of my favourite bookseller I'll buy it and probably enjoy it.  Not many admit to reading Shatner - then again not many admit to slowing down to look at an accident either.

Robert Silverberg

Across a Billion Years

billion yearsA team of archaeologists set out to investigate a site that holds information about a society that existed a billion years ago. Along the way they find bits and pieces of working technology that hints that perhaps the "High Ones" are still around. Following a star map, the group finds a robot that eventually leads them to the home world of the ancient aliens.

Written in an first person diary format, the book moves along at a pretty fair pace. Nothing too challenging, and the book is full of the wide eyed optimism that makes for a fun read.

Reviewed July 2000

Tower of Glass (©1970)

tower of glassSimeon Krug is one of the most powerful men on earth. A message has been received from space – man is not alone. Krug makes it his life’s work to respond the message. To do this a tower must be built to project the response into deep space. The tower when it is completed will be more than 1500 meters tall. Krug is also the creator of the android population that has helped mankind enter the golden age. Androids come in three varieties: Alphas, Betas, and Gammas. Unbeknownst to Krug, he has become the centre of the android’s communion. Their belief is that this is a time of testing and that eventually Krug will speak up for them and release them from their servitude. Androids remain property, but want equality.

Mister Silverberg tells an interesting story: The grandeur of man, the nature of belief and the ultimate betrayal all form facets of this story. The ending is somewhat rushed, and you can tell that the androids weren’t programmed by Asimov. This isn’t a great novel, but it is compelling in a strange way.

Reviewed July 7, 2005

Clifford D. Simak

Cosmic Engineers (©1950)

cosmicThere's some good old fashioned fun packed into the pages here. The year is 6948, and our adventure begins with two intrepid reporters heading out to Pluto to witness Man's first interstellar voyage. On the way however an old derelict spaceship is discovered. Within the ship is a young girl, a girl who was in suspended animation for over 1,000 years. A sleep in which her mind was awake and aware the entire time. You'd expect her to be a little off her rocker, but nope - she's the world's smartest person. She had a lot of time to think.

Enter the Cosmic Engineers who cast out a call for help across the universe. Their cry for help is oddly reminiscent of "The sky is falling!" but it works. Soon gathered at the edge of the universe is an odd assortment of characters who have to find a way to keep things together.

Along the way we meet some odd creatures, journey through to the end of time to meet Earth's last inhabitant, and learn the secret of the mysterious engineers. In all good cheesy fun.

Reviewed February 28, 2006

Dan Simmons

song of kaliendymionrise of endymion

iliumterror

Martin J. Smith

Straw Men

straw menI like finding fun books by accident. This one was sitting on a clearance table and for a couple of bucks it looked like fun, and if it wasn't I wasn't out ten bucks.

Jim Christensen is a psychologist who specializes in memory, and is one of those guys you'd like to play party tricks with. I found it interesting to see where he was going with memory and the fallibility of the human mind, and how susceptible we all are to the power of suggestion. The book is a murder mystery who dunnit with some fun twists and misdirection thrown in for fun. It's pretty solid, and reads like a runaway train. The ending was no big surprise, but wasn't so obvious it was a groaner.

Now to be truthful, had I paid more attention I wouldn't have read this, since this is loosely part of a series. But since I did read it, I can say it stands on it's own. However, I am now on the lookout for the other couple of books.

Reviewed February 2002

Michael C. Staudinger

The Falcon Rises

the falcon risesI always have a hard time with fantasy novels that take their hero from a normal reality and plunk them into an alien environment.  Roy is a literature professor, who finds himself about to be out of a job.  On another world the "good" Archmage Ratha is deep sixed by the "evil" Lord of Nothing.  Plonk.  Suddenly Roy is in Ratha's world, and is assumed to be the reincarnation of Ratha himself.  The transition between worlds and the inevitable questioning of the "new" reality is usually awkward, and hard to swallow.  Heck, it is fantasy after all, and who am I to be so tough to please?

That being said, some of my favourite fantasy novels from The Fionavor Tapestry, to Thomas Covenant have had equally awkward moments dealing with the transition between worlds.  The Falcon Rises appears to be the only novel to date by Michael Staudinger, and considering it came out in 1991 I guess that he only had one good story in him, which is too bad.  This was a really good read.  It was a page burner, and was over far too quickly.  Worth reading if you can find it.

Reviewed April 1999

Allen Steele

rude astronautsorbital decayclarke county space

kings of spaceoceanspacecoyote

Paul Stewart & Chris Riddell
Muddle Earth (©2003)

muddle earthI know this was a “kids” book, but it looked like good cheesy fun, and it was. In fact I was reminded a lot of Craig Shaw Gardner’s EBENEZUM SERIES, and to a lesser degree Piers Anthony’s Xanth (mainly for the puns). The story itself was simple and silly and the artwork was very good. Joe the Barbarian and his battle hound Henry were fun, as was the sarcastic budgie, and “small” ogre who were companions to the “wizard” Randalph the Wise (as inept a mage as there ever was). There were a lot of clever bits interspersed throughout, and even though this is a kid’s book, I found it an entertaining and enjoyable read, I’m sure my own kids will enjoy one day.

Reviewed February 22, 2005

R.L. Stine

Superstitious

superstitiousBefore I begin let me say that I've never read a book by this guy before.  Although my niece has read just about everything under the sun by this fellow.

Let's start with the obvious flaws.  Dumb characters, silly dialogue, and telegraphed plot twists.  One of the characters is built up to be this great big strong guy, has an amazing collection of knives and swords.  Sploink.  He's killed off.  Heck to make it worse he's killed off without us knowing.  The main characters finds out when we do as he trips over the lifeless body.  Oooh, scary.

Okay, now for the rest.  Couldn't put it down.  As corny as it was it was like a fun house ride.  All of the tricks are predictable, but you still pay your money and have a good time.

Reviewed June 1999

Steve Stockman

Walk On The Spiritual Journey of U2 (©2001)

walk onThis book should have been subtitled the spiritual adventures of Bono. I don't often read books like this, but a buddy of mine was talking about it, and to be honest I was somewhat curious. I'll admit to being one of the great unwashed who hung U2 out to dry as a bunch of wanker pseudo intellectual rock star socially conscious bands.

By the time I was finished I'll admit to changing my opinion of the boys and what they're about. Bono's lyrics, and searching really are quite challenging, and looking back on the years where I was harshest on the band I can see where I didn't "get" them.

The book suffers from too much armchair observation, and no input from the band, other than referencing previously available material. Still, this was a fast read (very light stuff this), and is an interesting take on arguably one of the best bands in the world.

Reviewed February 2002

Peter Straub

The Throat (©1993)

the throat I've not read a lot of Mister Straub's work, but The Hellfire Club was cheesy good fun, although not overly deep. I figured this one would be good silly fun too. The book grabbed me right off, and I held on for the ride. At times I was wondering what the heck was going on, but nothing was extraneous in the book - it was all there for a reason. Which made The Throat a bit of a surprise. There was some substance here.

There were some oddly irritating moments with the story within a story elements. Such as the infomercial aspects selling his past stories Koko and Mystery. It worked though, I'll no doubt be getting them before too long. The book pushes nearly 700 pages, and I was sorry when it was over.

There are some clever twists, and I'll admit to being played by the author - and I enjoyed it. The gross out elements were pretty tame, but that's a good thing. If I wanted to get over the top stupid I'd read those new horror romances that are all the rage in Europe. This was a lot of fun. Lots of suspense without resorting to the supernatual, and although at times I was challenged to suspend my disbelief, I was having a good time.

Oh, right - the synopsis. What was this about anyway. Hmm. In twenty five words or less? A writer returns home to comfort a friend, who also discovers he has some unfinished business in his closet. Also there appears to be some nutjob on the loose piling up a significanty body count - could it be the work of an old serial murderer who's returned to start all over again? Oh yeah, and there's more killing by some other unrelated nutjob just to add some spice.

I have no idea why the book is titled The Throat. Whatever, it was a hell of a lot of fun.

Reviewed (sort of) April 29, 2006

The Hellfire Club (©1996)

the hellfire clubThe first hundred pages and a bit were an uphill slog, Dick Dart shows up (this must be the guy Denis Leary was singing about) and the story takes off like a rocket.  The plot itself is pretty interesting (I won't use words like complicated), it's a murder mystery, a story within a story, and full of dark humour.  I tried telling my wife about the general gist of this novel and all she had to say was “It sounds pretty stupid.”  Yup, reality it ain’t, but it was a heck of a fun ride.

Reviewed July 1999

Jonathan Stroud

The Barimaeus Trilogy Book One
The Amulet of Samarkand
(©2003)

peter stroudMy son read this, and really got a kick out of it, and wanted me to read it. The Bartimaeus Trilogy marks the first series he's read of any substance - and he couldn't put the books down. The little guy is in the fifth grade, and many nights I'd go upstairs and find him asleep in bed with the book propped open on his pillow. If there's higher praise than that from a kid, I don't know what it is.

So to humour him I started reading the book expecting a light read with all of the syrupy trappings of a kid-lit. What I read surprised me - it was good solid storytelling. Bartimaeus told his portion of the tale in the first person, replete with footnotes. While the sections with young Nathaniel was told in a conventional third person.

The story is dark, at times surprisingly so. The story of the loner apprentice is nothing new, but the way it's presented here does put a new trick in the old dog's repertoire. The Amulet of Samarkand is the story of young Nathaniel who is apprenticed to learn magic. Along the way young Nathaniel meets Simon Lovelace, who humiliates him in front of his master - who looks on without interfering. After this encounter young Nathaniel wants to seek revenge - he studies in secret and at great risk summons Bartimaeus. The djinni steals an object of great value from Simon Lovelace - an object that turns out to be the amulet. As events spiral beyond Nathanial's ability to control, he finds himself in the middle of a plot to take over the government.

There are some clever twists and turns, and the setting in a familiar but alternate reality is a lot of fun. Mr. Stroud is walking a tightrope with the characters, and although Nathaniel is central to the story - there's an edge to him, that not always likable. This is the Bartimaeus Trilogy, so it's no surprise that the star of the show is the mischevious djinni.

The first book was a lot of fun, and sets the stage nicely for the next installment. I'm looking forward to the next adventure.

Reviewed January 24, 2008

The Barimaeus Trilogy Book Two
The Golem's Eye
(©2004)

peter stroudA couple of years older and wiser young Nathaniel is now an up and comer and a favourite of the Prime Minister. The magicians continue to dominate the commoners, but cracks are starting to show in the foundations of the empire. Joining the cast of characters is young Kitty - a member of the resistance who has a certain amount of protection from magic. Her addition to the narrative rounds out the story from three angles, and is a lot of fun. John Mandrake is the character we see more than Nathaniel - as the wide eyed optimism and naivety of his younger self gets buried.

Bartimaeus of course is his usual pompus self, and it's hard at times to balance the truth from the bull crap. As the story evolves the resistance begings to assert itself, while at the same time a mysterious force unleashes a Golem. Young John is put front and centre to resolve the issues - he's as much a potential scapegoat as anything but he tries to rise to the challenge.

Bartimaeus is a hard nut to crack - is he a "demon" with a conscience, or is he just another slave to the magicians who does what he's told? Hard to know - as the story unfolds it's hard to tell who's more human or who has more compassion.

I'm guessing all will be revealed in the next installment.

Reviewed February 8, 2008

The Barimaeus Trilogy Book Two
peter stroudPtolemy's Gate (©2006)

After the events of The Golem's Eye, young John Mandrake finds himself in the inner circle. He's now one of the powerful, but he's not able to find satisfaction. Meanwhile Bartimaeus has been kept on earth so long that his essence is starting to wear thin, and he's literally a shadow of his former self.

Kitty has managed to hide from the authorities - mainly because they think she's dead. It's a matter of time before her world is turned upside down. To top it off, a lot of really bad things happen, and there are bad guys galore and some truly icky demons out to roast everything in sight - it all comes down to Bartimaeus - and he's not in the best of shape.

The final installment in Jonathan Stroud's excellent trilogy manages to pull together the loose ends, and bring things together in a way that doesn't feel hollow or too tidy. Without resorting to spoilers - I will say that this is a wonderful redemption story, and I found myself getting swept away by the story. To the author's credit - I haven't read many books over the last few years that have kept the story going until the final paragraph.

To those who are inclined to dismiss this as merely as a light weight juvenile series are missing out on a truly enjoyable read.

Reviewed February 11, 2008

Tim Sullivan

The Martian Viking

the martian vikingDon't let the title and cheesy cover fool you.  This is a pretty darn good book.  An interesting concept.  Like Gameworld this book too addresses the nature of reality.  Reads very quickly, but the ending reads a little like the author didn't know how to end his book.  ". . . and then he woke up and realized it was all a dream." 

Reviewed February 1999

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