Book Review: “Hot Lead, Cold Iron” by Ari Marmell
Book Reviews / May 23, 2014

Give a Chicago private eye a magic wand, and what do you get? Well, Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, mostly. But Harry Dresden is a wizard of our time—a little rusty with high-tech gadgetry, to be sure, but also a VW Beetle-driving, pop-culture-riffing, very human wizard. One reviewer frequently quoted in jacket blurbs of the Dresden novels likens him to a mash-up of Philip Marlowe and Merlin. But actually, he’s a lot more like Richard Castle combined with Harry Potter. If you really want your wand-wielding detective hard boiled, you should try Mick Oberon. He has the period for it: the 1930s, the age of bootleggers and Chicago gangsters like Bugs Moran and Al Capone. He also has a shoulder holster in which he packs a high-caliber wand, best used for giving and taking luck and maybe spinning the occasional glamour. He talks in a clipped voice loaded with period slang, like “flivver” for “automobile” and “gink” for “man.” He could almost have stepped out of a pulp novel by James M. Cain or Raymond Chandler. Only, he isn’t human.

Book Review: “Forever Odd” by Dean Koontz
Book Reviews / May 12, 2014

Yes, Odd Thomas is odd. But Odd is also his first name. And yes, Odd Thomas is a little stressed out by the fact that he sees dead people and the trouble that sometimes accompanies their apparition. In fact, he’s worried about his mental health, and his experiences have aged him way beyond his 21 years, at least in his mind. So when his second volume of memoirs kicks in, we find him on a leave of absence from the fry cook job that he does so well but that he doesn’t think his nerves can take. He is starting to think about getting into the tire business (installation, not sales) since it seems even less demanding than slinging hash. He is still pulling himself together after the death of his fiancée Stormy. He is enjoying the quiet of the small Mojave Desert town of Pico Mundo, California. And he is still rooming with Elvis, the rock ‘n’ roll legend turned silent ghost.

Book Review: “The Secret War” by Matt Myklusch
Book Reviews / May 10, 2014

In the sequel to “The Accidental Hero”, young Jack Blank has five days to save the world. And yet he wastes most of that time trying to keep a terrifying secret that could instantly transform him from the hero who saved the Imagine Nation to an enemy who cannot be trusted. Kids and their priorities!

Book Review: “The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove” by Christopher Moore
Book Reviews / May 5, 2014

The off-season is usually a sleepy time in the scenic coastal town of Pine Cove, California. This fall, however, events conspire to make it a madcap emergency, combining crime, craziness, a man-eating monster from the depths of the ocean, and an epic wave of horniness. Fasten your Adult Content Advisory: It’s going to be a raunchy comedy from the author of “Practical Demonkeeping”, which shares this book’s setting and some of its characters.

Book Review: “The Letter for the King” by Tonke Dragt
Book Reviews / May 5, 2014

It was first published in 1962. It was recognized as the children’s book of the year in 1963 and the best children’s book in 50 years as of 2004. It was translated into 15 different languages between 1977 and 2011. It has sold over a million copies. It was made into a feature film in 2008. Its author received a knighthood and a lifetime award for youth literature and is considered the greatest children’s author in her country. And when, I ask you, was this children’s classic published in English? Answer: November 2013! Translated from Dutch by Laura Watkinson, it serves as the inaugural title of the new Pushkin Children’s Books label. Thanks to these unusual circumstances, I was able to read a special reviewers’ copy of a book ten years older than myself. You, too, still have time to become one of the first English-speaking fans of this delightful book. You might be able to say you discovered it before the sequel, “The Secrets of the Wild Wood”, makes its English-language debut in 2015. Should you? You should.

Book Review: “The Cuckoo’s Calling” by Robert Galbraith
Book Reviews / May 2, 2014

Here is a most satisfying recent example of the classic type of private-eye novel. The detective is the whimsically named Cormoran Strike, an ex-military policeman whose career in the army ended when a roadside bomb took away half a leg. His name has nothing to do with his father, a philandering superstar rock musician with whom he has no relationship whatever, and a lot to do with his “supergroupie” mother, who was flaky and impractical and died with a heroin needle stuck in her arm. He is 35 years old, up to his ears in debt, picking up the pieces after the end of a stormy 15-year relationship with a beautiful woman called Charlotte, and struggling to keep his business afloat while sleeping on a camp-bed in his office. Yet, perhaps surprisingly, he is a very determined, methodical investigator. He has a special gift for drawing answers out of people who don’t want to be questioned. And when he looks at the evidence of a celebrity death that the police declared to be suicide, he sees a different picture emerge.

Book Review: “Troubletwisters” by Garth Nix and Sean Williams
Book Reviews / April 26, 2014

The cover art of this book gives a misleading impression of what kind of trouble the “troubletwisters” specialize in. The fact that the book actually does feature several tornadoes and a hurricane may add to that impression. So you may be surprised to learn that the term “troubletwisters” in this book does not have anything to do with cyclones, as such. Troubletwisters are kids who have started to manifest powers—powers that, if brought under control and properly harnessed, will enable them to serve as Wardens – specially gifted people who dedicate their lives to keeping the Evil (with a capital “E”) out of this world. More on that later. While they are still coming into their powers, troubletwisters have a tendency to cause unintended chaos and twist a little trouble into a big problem. Hence the name.

Book Review: “Darksolstice” by Sam Llewellyn
Book Reviews / April 25, 2014

The second book of Lyonesse concludes this most unusual variant of the Arthurian legend, based on the folklore of the author’s native Isles of Scilly, off the southwest tip of Britain. It follows up on “The Well Between the Worlds”, which seemed such an engaging and original work of fantasy that I had read half of it before I realized that the resemblance between its characters’ names and figures associated with King Arthur was more than a coincidence. Now on board with the secret, I read the second half of the tale and met even more familiar characters under a different guise. Amazingly, knowing what I already know from having read several tellings of the deeds of King Arthur and his knights, I didn’t know enough to spoil the plot of this book. I guess you’d have to grow up in the Isles of Scilly to know what to expect. Maybe even then the creative touches added by the author of the “Little Darlings” series, and of many other novels for adults and children, would be enough to make the story seem new, richly inventive, and full of surprises.

Book Review: “Alien on a Rampage” by Clete Barrett Smith
Book Reviews / April 23, 2014

In his second summer at the Intergalactic Bed & Breakfast, David (formerly “Scrub”) Elliott expects to enjoy his time with Grandma, his sweetheart Amy, and a houseful of extraterrestrial tourists. But things get off to a disappointing start and get worse from there. First, he suspects that the new alien handyman is up to no good. But far from being able to convince anyone to listen to his concerns, David soon learns that Grandma, Amy, and her security chief Dad trust skull-faced Scratchull more than they trust him. The more he tries to prove his suspicions, the more Scratchull makes him look like a fool—or worse.

Book Review: “Rise of a Hero” by Hilari Bell
Book Reviews / April 20, 2014

The legend says that the great hero Sorahb will return when his country has need of him. If ever Farsala needed a hero, it is now. The Hrum Empire has destroyed its army and taken possession of most of its major cities. They still have most of a year to meet their deadline, when they must either subdue all resistance or abandon their plan to conquer Farsala, accepting it as an ally instead. The nation’s slender chances of holding out that long depend on one walled city withstanding a siege, a band of lawless “swamp rats” evading capture, and the tiny remnant of her army being ready to make a last stand before the end.