Books

Review: 'Dead Street' by Mickey Spillane

This Mickey Spillane novel was finished after his death by his friend and fellow crime novelist Max Alan Collins. It was part of the early rollout of Hard Case Crime, a fun imprint of pulp mysteries and hard-boiled crime fiction with charmingly lurid cover art. The story's a brisk read with the cynicism and Chandleresque patter one expects from a writer like Spillane, but the plot feels like something that wasn't fully baked yet. Retired New York police detective Jack Stang moves to Florida, ... (read more)

Review: 'Quag Keep' by Andre Norton

This 1978 novel, the first ever written for a role-playing game, may still be one of the worst four decades later. The esteemed SF/F author Andre Norton was introduced to the first edition of Dungeons & Dragons by co-creator Gary Gygax. After a play session, she wrote a novel from her limited understanding of the rules about characters who don't know their lives and world are a game. That sounds intriguing but the novel isn't. It devotes less than 20 pages at the beginning and end to exploring ... (read more)

Review: 'His Majesty's Dragon' by Naomi Novik

A charming read from first page to last, His Majesty's Dragon is a fantasy novel in which England is at war with Napoleon's France and both sides have a formidable arsenal of dragons and an aviator corps to pilot them. A Navy captain captures a French vessel and finds out why they fought so hard after all seemed lost -- there was an unhatched dragon egg on board. But this rare prize is about to hatch at sea, where no aviator is around to bind it to service. In her Hugo-nominated debut novel, ... (read more)

Review: 'Eternity Road' by Jack McDevitt

This post-apocalyptic novel occurs long after the fall of civilization. Humans in an agrarian society along the Mississippi River yearn to learn more about the Roadmakers, so named because of the enormous network of roads left behind. Little else survives other than six books and a lot of garbage impervious to decay. Ten years after a quest to learn more ends in tragedy, the lone survivor's death leads to a discovery in his belongings. This sparks a dangerous new quest by a small band to cross ... (read more)

Review: 'Every Crooked Path' by Steven James

When my favorite stop on I-95 in North Carolina ceased selling paperbacks because the distributor folded, they offered to sell me the spinrack and the 24 well-thumbed books left on it. I ended up with some thrillers I otherwise would have missed, like this one. I love the rack but wish I'd missed this book. Every Crooked Path is a convoluted novel with slapdash pacing, thin characterization and characters who speak in the same voice -- a trait most excruciating when the protagonist attempts to ... (read more)

Behind the Throne by K.B. Wagers

This book was highly recommended by six avid readers on File 770 and they were right. Hailimi Mercedes Jaya Bristol, a gunrunner who left her family 20 years ago and never looked back, is brought home when the assassinations of her sisters and niece leave her heir to the empire. The story mixes palace intrigue with well-spun action as Haili struggles to survive long enough to figure out who's behind the attempted coup. The India-inspired, far-future society Wagers has created is richly drawn ... (read more)

Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis

Elmer Gantry felt as if I'd read it already because the protagonist has been so widely referenced in American culture. Sinclair Lewis mercilessly skewers a narcissistic preacher who exploits Christianity to enrich himself and secretly commits every sin he fulminates against from the pulpit. The book begins with Gantry as a hard-partying, anti-intellectual football star at a Baptist university, follows him into a career as a pastor he feels no calling to pursue and tracks for a quarter century ... (read more)

Gamer Fantastic RPG Fiction Anthology

This anthology doesn't live up to the inventive premise of telling stories where roleplaying games and reality intersect. I was ready to quit after the introductory material and early stories all hammered the same worn-out joke about gamers being slovenly fast-food addicts, but I stuck around to see what Jim C. Hines would do with his story "Mightier Than the Sword." His entertaining tale was about libriomancers who could pull weapons and creatures out of SF/F novels, a premise he later ... (read more)

Star Wars: Rebel Dream by Aaron Allston

As a fan of Aaron Allston going back to his earliest RPG designs for Car Wars and Champions in the 1980s, I liked this book but felt like his creativity was constrained by the plot requirements required of the 12th book in a 19-book series (which I haven't read prior to this installment). The novel follows the fall of Coruscant to the Yuuzhan Vong. Starfighter squadrons and Jedi commanded by Wedge Antilles must take and hold the planet Borleias to help Coruscant refugees escape and regroup. ... (read more)

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

This comic novel about a neurodivergent genetics professor looking for a mate won me over quickly. Don Tillman is pushing 40 and has never been on a second date. He approaches the problem by crafting a long test for prospective partners he calls the Wife Project, believing that if enough women take it one will eventually pass. Everything in Don's life is methodical. He meets Rosie, a woman completely unfit according to his test criteria. Mayhem ensues. I laughed out loud many times at clashes ... (read more)