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: “The Ballad of Sir Dinadan” by Gerald Morris
Book Reviews / March 9, 2014

The fifth book of the “Squire’s Tales” series continues this Wisconsin-based author’s retelling of Arthurian legends for younger readers with a combination of two knightly love stories with the point of view of a minstrel knight who has fallen out of love with romantic love. Forced into knighthood, though he would rather be a rebec-playing troubadour, Sir Dinadan rides out into the English countryside in search of inspiration for heroic ballads. Instead, he finds disillusionment. First it comes in the form of a beautiful lady who toys with his heart and tries to trick him into doing something vile. Then he observes the series of tasks that a would-be knight named Culloch must do to win the hand of a Welsh princess—ridiculous tasks that have nothing to do with the “helping the helpless” sort of thing King Arthur values in his knights. And thirdly, he gets mixed up in the affair of Tristram and Iseult, the most tragic lovers in all of song and legend, though in reality (as Dinadan sees it) theirs is the stupidest and most sordid story of all.

Book review: “Necromancing the Stone” by Lish McBride
Book Reviews / January 24, 2014

In this sequel to “Hold Me Closer”, “Necromancer”, college dropout, ex-fry cook, late-blooming necromancer Sam LaCroix begins to make sense of his long hidden powers, his network of strange and dangerous allies, his steamy relationship with the Alpha female of a werewolf pack, and the huge fortune left to him by the villain he recently vanquished. But he’d better hurry. More challenges are coming at him, as fast as he can deal with them.

Book review: “Parsifal’s Page” by Gerald Morris
Book Reviews / January 17, 2014

In the fourth of at least ten books in a series based on Arthurian legends, Wisconsin-based author and Baptist minister Gerald Morris brings more than an impressive display of scholarship. He also brings a very evident love of one of the world’s most enduring and powerful stories, a knack for making old tales new in a way that will appeal to younger readers, and a charm for blending timeless myths with original characters and story-lines that speak to the present moment. Believable touches of human emotion, sparkles of merriment, glimmers of faerie magic, a glow of mystery and mysticism, flashes of athletic violence, and flames of romantic passion light up the page and warm the reader’s insides.

Book review: “Tam Lin” by Pamela Dean
Book Reviews / December 10, 2013

The author of the “Secret Country” trilogy, when asked to contribute a volume to a series of fairy-tale novelizations, delved instead into a traditional Scots ballad about a girl named Janet who saves her lover from being sacrificed to the powers of Hell by the Queen of Faerie. Transferring the setting to the campus of a small midwestern college in the 1970s, she weaves this eerie storyline into a tale of ghosts, time travelers, young people discovering love and friendship, and the magic of literature, especially English and ancient Greek.

Book review: “13 Curses” by Michelle Harrison
Book Reviews / August 26, 2013

In this sequel, Tanya comes back to spend the October holidays at her grandmother’s rambling rural estate of Elvesden, near the Essex market town of Tickey End. And so she gets to be a part of an adventure in which the charm-bracelet is much more central. If her summer was perilous and dark, the weeks leading up to Samhain will be even more so. For when she was last at Elvesden, another girl—calling herself Red, but really named Rowan—took Tanya’s place in a magical trap and was swept into the faerie realm.

Book review: “13 Treasures” by Michelle Harrison
Book Reviews / August 18, 2013

Being able to see fairies isn’t all sparkly dust and tinkly bells. Tanya has been able to see them since she was a baby, and it’s a living nightmare for her. Her parents are fed up with what they see as serious behavioral problems. And the winged creatures that visit her on moonlit nights do not bring wonder and enchantment, but threats and punishment when she doesn’t do what they want. They aren’t pretty. They aren’t nice. There’s no one Tanya can tell about them.

Book review: “Cold Days” by Jim Butcher
Book Reviews / June 23, 2013

Book 14 of “The Dresden Files” follows up on Chicago-based wizard/detective Harry Dresden’s apparent death in “Changes” and post-death experiences in “Ghost Story”. If you haven’t read those books yet, I’ve already spoiled that much; to say anything about this book, I’ll have to spoil a lot more.

Book review: “The Second Siege” by Henry H. Neff
Book Reviews / March 10, 2013

Book 2 of the “Tapestry” quartet continues with Max McDaniel’s second year at the Rowan Academy, a school for magically talented teens somewhere on the east coast of the U.S. I have already noted that Rowan has as much in common with Hogwarts as almost any school for magic. In this book, however, the apparent similarities between the two schools take a backseat to the intriguing differences between them. Not that we get to see much of what goes on in the classroom, this year. Max and his frail, vulnerable, yet super-sorcerous roommate David Menlo miss most of the school year between one perilous adventure overseas and another to the world of the Sidh (which I take to be something like Faerie), where they spend more time than passes in our world.

Book review: “The Keys to the Demon Prison” by Brandon Mull
Book Reviews / March 6, 2013

It’s the fifth and final “Fablehaven” adventure, and the world is coming to an end. More of the world’s magical game preserves are falling to the Society of the Evening Star, which is collecting the five hidden talismans needed to open the demon prison of Zzyzx. Young Kendra and Seth Sorenson, along with their family and friends, are charged with protecting these powerful objects, and the five “Eternals” who must die before the bad guys can turn the key in the lock. But after a death-defying visit to the Australian preserve where the last artifact is housed, Seth is taken prisoner by the so-called Sphinx—actually a centuries-old Ethiopian slave who rebelled against his masters and now holds most of the keys to Zzyzx.