Category Archives: ebook reviews

THE LADY IN THE LAKE, by Raymond Chandler

I happened to see that THE LADY IN THE LAKE by Raymond Chandler was on sale on Kindle, so I picked it up.

It’s one of Chandler’s novels featuring private detective Philip Marlowe, and it’s really good. In the book, Marlowe gets hired to find the vanished wife of a rich man, and in the process, he stumbles across a poor man whose wife has also disappeared. In the course of his investigation, he stumbles across a web of lies and corruption, and if he’s not careful, that web is going to eat him as well.

It was a well-constructed mystery book in its own right, but I also enjoyed reading it because of its influence on the Dresden Files, which I enjoyed greatly. Philip Marlowe is a lot like Harry Dresden, albeit with no magic and less of a pushover with women (some of the women in THE LADY IN THE LAKE would have rolled right over poor Harry).

Definitely recommended!

-JM

THE SANCTUARY SPARROW by Ellis Peters


I finished reading THE SANCTUARY SPARROW by Ellis Peters, one of her series about the mystery-solving monk Brother Cadfael, set in medieval England during the civil war between King Stephen and Empress Matilda.

I really enjoyed it! In this book, a desperate singer named Liliwin takes sanctuary at Brother Cadfael’s abbey, pursued by an angry mob that claims he assaulted and robbed a local goldsmith. Liliwin protests his innocence, and Brother Cadfael starts to investigate. Naturally, darker things are afoot than mere robbery.

I always enjoy it when Cadfael teams up with Hugh Beringar, the deputy sheriff of Shropshire. I definitely recommend this book, and the entire series. Always a pleasure to read a really good book from a writer at the top of her game.

-JM

THE BIG SLEEP by Raymond Chandler

I read my first Raymond Chandler book this week – THE BIG SLEEP, the first of Chandler’s books featuring private investigator Philip Marlowe. In the book, set in 1930s-era Los Angeles, Marlowe is hired by an elderly man to investigate (and possibly deal with) a blackmail attempt against his youngest daughter. Mayhem ensues.

It is interesting to read a book set in the 1930s – everyone smokes and drinks constantly, which is definitely not the case in contemporary America. In one scene Marlowe goes into a drug store to buy a bottle of whiskey and a carton of cigarettes, which you definitely could not do today.

It was almost interesting to see the effect this book had on later fiction – I believe THE BIG SLEEP and its film adaptation created the popular image of the hard-drinking, chain-smoking, world-weary yet clever private eye in trench coat and fedora. I’ve read all fifteen of the Harry Dresden books, and Marlowe had a strong influence on Dresden. In fact, I suspect Marlowe is the kind of man Harry Dresden would be if Harry a.) wasn’t a wizard, and b.) wasn’t so flustered by women.

Anyway, I enjoyed the book and am looking forward to watching the film version when time permits. I’m curious to see how the movie would soften some of the book’s harsher scenes, several of which definitely would not pass muster in the standards of 1940s-era cinema. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – the film version of THE MALTESE FALCON made the Sam Spade character into a more heroic man than he was in the book, and I don’t think the story was hurt by the change.

-JM

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child


I wasn’t going to read HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD, but someone loaned me their copy, so why not read it?

Obviously, it’s not an actual novel, but a script of a play (though from the way the publisher marketed it, you would never guess it). That said, it’s a pretty good story. I once heard it said that the best Young Adult fiction is about either 1.) children dealing with the absence of parents, and 2.) children coming to terms with their parents, and the script does both entertainingly.

It must have been a hideously expensive play to produce – all those special effects, and all those quick scene changes!

That said, I do think it’s something of a missed opportunity. Instead of a play script, it should have been adapted into a trilogy of books. It has exactly the right structure for a trilogy, and it would have made a mint.

So, a good story, just be aware it is a play script, and not a novel.

-JM

 

THE KORMAK SAGA, by William King


I’ve been reading THE KORMAK SAGA by William King for a while, and I just read the eighth and latest book, SWORD OF WRATH. The series isn’t over yet, but I really enjoy it and so I thought I’d write a short review to show my appreciation.

Kormak is basically Conan the Cimmerian if Conan were raised by warrior-monks dedicated to fighting malicious creatures of the supernatural. Kormak’s family was killed by a prince of the Old Ones, a wicked magical race that once ruled the world, and the Old One left Kormak alive as a witness to his deeds, promising to come back and kill him one day. Kormak is raised by the Guardians of the Dawn, an order dedicated to defending mankind from dark magic, and is equipped with a dwarf-forged blade capable of wounding and killing creatures immune to normal weapons.

And then Kormak goes forth into the world to do his duty.

By the time the series starts, Kormak is getting a bit older and run-down, but still has lots of fight in him. During the course of the eight books, he fights mad wizards (repeatedly), necromancers, undead monsters, insane elves, wererats, goblins, sea-dwelling squid monsters, and other creatures. The first few books have a Monster Of The Week feel to them (making them essentially stand alone), but the last few have been an overarching mystery about a sinister sarcophagus, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes.

Definitely recommended! Most of the books are on the shorter side, but there’s an art to doing short books, and the Kormark series definitely hits the mark.

-JM

NETHEREAL, by Brian Niemeier

Mr. Niemeier was kind enough to give some of my book announcements a retweet, so I checked out his first book, NETHEREAL. I bought it in February and just finished it, which is a regrettable demonstration of my reading speed these days. Fortunately, the book was worth the wait.

Basically: Pirates Of The Caribbean meets Firefly meets Event Horizon. Also, Space Elves.

The plot revolves around Jaren Peregrine, an unscrupulous pirate captain. Jaren is half-Gen (think Space Elves), and the Gen were exterminated by the Guild, the ruthless brotherhood that maintains and violently enforces a monopoly on all interstellar travel. Jaren keeps trying to rouse a resistance against the Guild, but it never goes well.

Then, one day, Jaren and his crew receive an intriguing offer – a secret organization opposed to the Guild has constructed an experimental vessel that will provide passage to a new universe, one free of the Guild’s influence.

Unfortunately, the new universe turns out to be Hell.

Like, the actual place, Nine Circles and all. Fortunately, Hell is organized a bit like late Carolingian France, with various warlords waging endless battles against each other. If Jaren and crew want to get home, they need to play those warlords against each other…but increasingly they find themselves sucked into a plot to raise new gods to replace the old ones.

It’s a really imaginative book. It’s extremely hard to explain a constructed universe to the reader, but NETHEREAL pulls it off (it helps that there is a glossary of terms at the end of the book for quick reference). At times, I would almost say it’s too imaginative – it’s got FTL starships and lasers and swords and demons and necromancers and liches (Space Liches!) and gods and elves and starfighters and zombies (Space Zombies!) and a bunch of other things all within a 590 page book. Anyone not already familiar with SF/F tropes will have a hard time following the book, but they’re probably not the target audience anyway.

I definitely enjoyed it, and will be checking out the sequel SOULDANCER before 2016 is over.

And that scene with the walrus! You’ll know it when you get to it.

-JM

THE QUADRAIL SERIES, by Timothy Zahn

Murder on a train…IN SPACE!

It’s a little more complex than that, though. THE QUADRAIL SERIES has 5 books:

1.) Night Train To Rigel

2.) The Third Lynx

3.) Odd Girl Out

4.) The Domino Pattern

5.) Judgment At Proteus

I started reading the series ten years ago, and just finished it, so it’s time for a review!

In the world of the QUADRAIL series, interstellar travel is only possible via the Quadrail system, a train that is somehow able to travel between worlds. No one knows how it works. The Quadrail system itself is managed by a mysterious group of aliens known as the “Spiders”, and the Spiders enforce a strict rule against using the Quadrail for military purposes. Because of this, and because the Quadrail is the only way of traveling between solar systems, the Spiders have imposed a de facto peace between the Twelve Empires of the galaxy – including the humans, the newest and the youngest race to stumble across the Quadrail system.

But underneath this placid surface, danger stirs. The Spiders have some ancient enemies with long memories and grudges to settle.

Into this situation stumbles Frank Compton, a washed-up former intelligence agent hired by a Terran trillionaire to find the secret of the Quadrail. The Spiders recruit Compton to fight their enemies, aided by the mysterious Bayta, another human agent of the Spiders who has an agenda of her own.

The series is an excellent combination of murder mystery, spy thriller, and speculative reading. Careful reading is required since several of the plots turn upon obscure details, but highly recommended!

-JM

GOD, ROBOT, an anthology edited by Anthony Marchetta


I rather liked this anthology.

It’s a play on Isaac Asimov’s famous Three Laws of Robotics: 1.) A robot can’t injure a human being, 2.) A robot must obey orders, so long as it doesn’t conflict with the First Law, and 3.) A robot must protect itself from harm, so long as this doesn’t conflict the first two laws.

The idea of Asimov-style humanoid robots seems quaint nowadays, like a future where domed cities would be built on the Moon in the 1980s…but when you think of recent advances in artificial intelligence and weaponized drone aircraft, the notion of Three Laws becomes suddenly much more relevant.

GOD, ROBOT is a thought experiment that adds another layer to the Three Laws. Specifically, it cites The Greatest Commandment from Matthew 22, when the lawyer asks Christ about the greatest commandment of the Law, and Christ answers:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

So how would robots act if they were programmed to love their neighbors as themselves? It could be an appealing prospect, or terrifying – the AI in THE MATRIX movies might have argued that they had imprisoned mankind in the Matrix for their own good.

GOD, ROBOT is structured as a frame story. In the year 6000 AD, a cop named Thesus tracks down the notorious criminal William Locke to an isolated monastery in the Alpha Centauri star system. When Theseus at last finds his quarry, the aged Locke surrenders without a fight, but first wants to tell Theseus a story – specifically, the story of the “theobots”. In the universe of GOD, ROBOT, a group of scientists decide to add the two commandments mentioned above to the Three Laws, creating a new kind of android called a “theobot”. Locke’s story (structured in the contributors’ story to the anthology), tells the history of the theobots, from their inception in early 21st century America, their spread into space, their part in the rise and fall of the tyrannical World State, and their gradual journeys into interstellar space.

I definitely enjoyed it – I think my favorite stories were the ones featuring the bumbling scientists who lived in terror of their boss, and the final story, when a woman prepares to unleash a long-prepared genocide, but has doubts at the final moment. The best speculative fiction always asks the “what if” question, and this anthology does a good job of that.

-JM

SWORDS AGAINST DEATH by Fritz Leiber

I’ve been trying to read more classic science fiction and fantasy over the last year.  This was hard in the previous decade because so much of it was out of print, but thanks to the rise of ebooks, much more of it is available, including the tales of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser by Fritz Leiber. Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser were apparently classic characters, but I never got around to reading them because they were out of print. But, thanks to Open Road Media, they’re available as ebooks.

I read SWORDS & DEVILTRY, the origin stories of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and thought it only indifferent. However, the sequel SWORDS AGAINST DEATH when Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser met in ill-omened Lankhmar, was much better.

It’s a frame story, consisting of a string of interconnected short stories as the exuberant barbarian Fafhrd and the sardonic Gray Mouser contest against various foes both wizardly and mundane. The short stories are only loosely interconnected, but the overarching theme concerns Fafhrd and the Gray Mouse attempting to come to terms with the deaths of their love interests, leading up to their quest to steal the mask of Death himself (hence, Swords Against Death).

I think my favorite stories were the ones with the Howling Tower, Fafhrd and the Mouser’s duel with the Thieves’ Guild, and the mysterious store where the incredible bargains are a bit…sharper…than they appear. Recommended.

-JM