Book review: “The Last of the Mohicans” by James Fenimore Cooper
Book Reviews / January 17, 2014

Forget about the 1992 movie starring Daniel Day-Lewis, and based on this book published in 1826. All these years later, I still remember a lot of things about that movie. Very few of them faithfully represent things in this book. It turns out to be not so much a film adaptation of the novel, as a piece of original entertainment based on characters and situations in the novel. Oh, well. I still like the 2002 film “The Count of Monte Cristo”, even though I now know it resembles its source book even less. It’s a trial to be both a bookworm and a movie buff.

Book review: “The Crimson Crown” by Cinda Williams Chima
Book Reviews / January 12, 2014

Book Four of the Seven Realms series brings Han Alister, Raisa, and the Queendom of the Fells to the crisis of their age. And—just think of it—their age is scarcely eighteen! Readers around that age will be especially thrilled by the political intrigues, the deadly dangers, the perplexing mysteries, and the turbulent romance that swirl around these two main characters. He is a former street lord who only found out within the last year that he is a wizard, the heir of a so-called Demon King who has cast a shadow over Fellsian history for a thousand years. She is heir to the line of Gray Wolf Queens, yet she must fight an hourly battle to keep command of her own fate while the wizard council and the upland clans—mutually sworn enemies—make their own plans as to whom she will marry and how she will rule. Political pressure is one thing, but neither side is above using deadly force to get the result it wants.

Book review: “Shadow of Night” by Deborah Harkness
Book Reviews / January 10, 2014

What do a wearh, a manjasang, a nachzehrer, and an alukah have in common? In this sequel to “A Discovery of Witches”, we find out that they are all words for “vampire” used across 16th century Europe, from Oxfordshire to the Auvergne to the Jewish Quarter of Prague. Present-day American witch Diana Bishop has the opportunity to learn about them, not only as a post-doctoral scholar of the history of alchemy, but also as the time-traveling wife of a vampire prince known by just as many names: Mattieu de Clermont, Matthew Roydon, Sebastian St. Clair, Gabriel ben Ariel… One accumulates aliases when one has lived a thousand years or two.

Book review: “Finnikin of the Rock” by Melina Marchetta
Book Reviews / January 7, 2014

The Australian author of “Jellicoe” Road has dealt with many issues facing today’s young adults: loneliness, depression, grief, single pregnancy, suicide, racism, family and school problems galore. Then she turned toward writing YA fantasy, and the “Lumatere Chronicles” is the result. In this first book of the trilogy, we are introduced to a gripping, romantic fantasy about sexy young people riding horses, sailing ships, and fighting with bows and arrows and swords, all to restore a lost kingdom. What sets it apart from every other tween melodrama about prophecies being fulfilled, curses being broken, secret identities being revealed, and prisoners being delivered from durance vile?

Book review: “The Magician King” by Lev Grossman
Book Reviews / January 1, 2014

“The Magicians” introduced us to Quentin Coldwater, a young American whose heart belongs in a Narnia-like world of juvenile fantasy novels called Fillory. When Quentin gets into an exclusive school called Brakebills (think: a college-level Hogwarts in upstate New York), he learns the dangerous art magic, then joins several of his buddies on a journey that takes them to the very real world of Fillory. The chapters of “The Magician King” alternate between two storylines.

Book review: “Unspoken” by Sarah Rees Brennan
Book Reviews / December 22, 2013

Book 1 of “The Lynburn Legacy” introduces us to Kami Glass, a teenaged girl of mixed Japanese and English ancestry who lives in the Cotswolds village of Sorry-in-the-Vale. Since she was a baby, Kami has had an imaginary friend named Jared who talks to her in her head, telling her all about his make-believe life in America. Even into high school she continues to converse with this secret voice, though she has increasingly learned to hide it from her concerned parents and her weirded-out friends. Then one day the surviving members of the Lynburn family, the old lords of the manor, come back into town—and one of them turns out to be a boy named Jared, who grew up in America believing that the voice in his head was an imaginary friend named Kami.

Book review: “Changeless” by Gail Carriger
Book Reviews / December 13, 2013

In Book 2 of the “Parasol Protectorate,” a racy supernatural riff on Victorian steampunk, something has taken the fangs out of London’s werewolves and vampires. No worries! Lady Maccon (formerly Miss Alexia Tarabotti) is on the case. In her role as the preternatural adviser to Her Majesty’s Shadow Council—a role she earned by being the only soulless, supernatural-powers-neutralizing, respectable married lady in town—she gate-crashes a reunion between her werewolf husband and his former pack, somewhere in the southern Scottish Highlands.

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: “Soulless” by Gail Carriger
Book Reviews / December 6, 2013

The first of (at present) five books in a series titled “The Parasol Protectorate” introduces a world that combines Victorian-era Steampunk with vampires, werewolves, and ghosts. It’s a romantic comedy of manners with a broad streak of sensuous eroticism, ripe for an Adult Content Advisory. How ripe? Let me tell you. One day on my way to work, while listening to the audio-book expertly narrated by Emily Grey, I had to turn off my car stereo several blocks short of my destination. No more needs to be said.

Book review: “Angel Isle” by Peter Dickinson
Book Reviews / October 14, 2013

In the story before the story before the story, four representatives from a peaceful, bucolic valley traveled into the Empire to the south in search of a magician who would build a magical barrier around their valley, protecting it from both northern marauders and the conscripting, taxing powers of the Empire. Eventually a magician named Faheel fixed things so that, as long as the male descendants of Ortahl the miller sang to the northern snows, an ice dragon would keep the pass closed to barbarian invasion; and as long as a female descendant of Urla the farmer fed barley to the unicorns and sang to the cedars, a sickness in the forest to the south of the valley would keep men from the Empire out as well. This protection held for twenty generations.