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Painting of fox
Prints of this painting by Sharman, and others, are available at Sahara Cool under Animals and Birds.

13 November 2015

softcover, 217 pages, intro, and 13 stories. From SF Trails.
reviewed by Steve Johnson.
As Lyn says, it must be the season. We’d (my wife, Glen and I) no sooner vanished off down the road in our campervan, than Lyn got in copies of two anthologies with her work and wanted me to review them. Unfortunately they had to wait until we got back, but now that ae are –
MIDDAY SUN is an editor’s choice volume. That means Mr. Riley went back over a stack of anthologies his publishing house produced previously, and selected from them the stories he likes best himself. That can be either a disaster or a triumph, and in this case it was a triumph. He attracts a number of talented writers, and in any of the Trails anthologies I usually like about half of the stories a lot. In this one out of 13 stories I really enjoyed all but two. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the two, just that they didn’t appeal to me. So –
last up were two I liked best, the editor’s own tale The Preacher, (with a punchline that made me LOL, I could just hear that weary, faintly ironic comment in my head) and J.A. Campbell’s, Serpent’s Rest, which sent shivers down my backbone. They Zapped With Their Boots On was a very solid riff on alternate worlds, while Ching Song Ping and the 53 Thieves had a whiff of Ali Baba about it and made me smile at the final line. Also excellent were Lyn’s A Day Out Shopping (which I enjoyed when I first read it in ms) the first of two stories by John Howard, Kit Volker’s Art Lessons, and C.J. Killmer’s, Forewarned is…
All in all this was a great anthology, and I think that the editor could do a lot worse that to produce a second ‘editorial choice’ anthology sometime in the future, if only because his taste seems to allign with mine.

9 September 2015

tradepaperback, published 1998 by HarperCollins.
I saw this when it came out years ago, speed-read my way through an item or two and bought it on the spot. And every 4-5 years I re-read it and chuckle happily. (This week was the fourth time.) I might not recommend it to those that are under thirty, they won’t remember a lot (if any) of the subject matter, and half my enjoyment in reading this comes from remembering the events pilloried, but for those in their forties and up it’s a gem of a book.
It’s based on a column written for TRUTH (a weekly newspaper) by the author, with a sprinkling of other articles written around the same time for The Sunday Star Times and the NZ Herald. They are both clever and funny, but often add in a pointed comment or two, and while now and again I didn’t always agree, I always enjoyed the writing. Copies are still around, and if you like a good laugh – with some excellent social commentary (and a lot of non-PC) buy one. My regret is that the author doesn’t seem to have written a sequel.

22 August 2015

Tradepaperback published New Holland (Australia) 2007.
And yes, some of them certainly would have been embarrassing merely making them all the funnier to anyone that wasn’t involved. The compiler has trawled a wide variety of areas to bring this lot together and I’ve found that it’s not just readable, but re-readable. Third time of reading since purchase and I found them just as funny. There’s the suspected drug dealer who escaped from police by racing into a forest. He might have been harder to find if he hadn’t been wearing sneakers with battery powered lights that flashed off and on at each step. Then there was the newswoman on Australian TV who was chatting with an expert on prostate cancer. Asked the lady of him “and what percentage of women are affected by this disease?” Ah well… And so the book goes on, as did my giggles. Yes, this one was definitely worth the cover price.

9 August 2015

Paperback, published TOR August 2015.
And very sadly, the last in the series. I got this in the mail (pre-ordered) yesterday, read it in gulps all day, and today is the review. Look, this is a great book, still more of the same and I loved every word, but it’s bitterpsweet. Yes, another Kitty book, but also that’s it. On the other hand – Many years ago Andre Norton wrote what was intended to be the final (last word and no more again) book in her Witch World series, The Warding of Witch World. yes, well, it wasn’t the last book because she changed her mind. It’s possible Carrie Vaughn will too, and even if she doesn’t and there are no more books, there’s always short stories to fit into odd parts of the series arc, and when there’s enough of them there can be a collection, and more new short stories and…
But this one was great. It finished the saga of the Vampire long game very satisfyingly, brought back several old friends from earlier books, hinted at a possible romance for Cormac, and convincingly allowed Kitty something she wanted. No, I’m not spoiling the book by being too explicit. I enjoyed it too much to ruin it for other readers. Go buy it yourself, if you like Kitty at all you shouldn’t be disappointed. But with no Kitty to look forward to I may have to buy the first in the author’s other three books – which up to now I haven’t bought because I got hooked on Kitty. Hmmm. I wonder how many other ‘Kitty’ readers out there are saying the same thing. Could be great for sales of Discord’s Apple, After the Golden Age, and Dreams of the Golden Age.

13 July 2015

If you never read these when they were published by DAW in 1979 and 1982, try to lay hands on copies now. They were seminal women’s anthologies then, now they are still unbeatable. Sadly, a number of the authors within have passed on, but here were some of the best stories they ever did. Janrae Frank (late and lamented) had Wolves of Nakesht in the anthology. I wrote to her at the time and we remained writing, then emailing casually from then on. I wrote the foreword to her own story collection, feeling then and even now, that her work never received the credit it should have. There were Andre’s Falcon’s Blood, C.J. Cherryh’s The Dreamstone, Janet Fox had Morrien’s Bitch, and there was the clever, savage “The Rape Patrol,’ by Michele Belling. (Who seems never to have written another story that I can find – although if that was it, that single story is a heck of a legacy.) Elizabeth Lynn, Megan Lindholm, Charles Saunders, Joanna Russ and T.J. Morgan, (an elderly academic who wrote in Welsh, and who died some 7 years after this story’s publication.) all writers who produced great stories.
Three years later the editor, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, did the second, Amazons II, and it was at least as good. Again she enticed superb authors to write her a story, and again the stories too were superb. F.M. Busby’s For A Daughter, (the gone and lamented writer) Jo Clayton’s Nightwork, George R.R. Martin’s In The Lost Lands, Gael Baudino’s Lady of the Forest End, and stories by Gilliam Fitzgerald, Phyllis Ann Karr, Elanear Arneson, Tanith Lee and Ardath Mayhar. My deep regret was that DAW never asked Jessica Amanda Salmonson to do more of these anthologies, they had the highest incidence of terrific stories I ever encountered in anthologies, selected by an editor who knew what she was doing, and knew too that you don’t just toss a bunch of stories together and hope they blend. (JAS did other excellent work beside editing, if you like solid s & s, look at her Tomoe Gozen books.) Those of us who still have our Amazon’s copies regularly re-read them, in fact it was doing just that (for about the twentieth time) this month that produced this review. And note that after almost forty years I can STILL re-read them and enjoy that each time… So if you’ve never run into these anthologies, see if you can lay hands on copies, because believe me, they were – and always will be I believe – worth more than the time and money you’ll spend. (I understand that Amazons – the company – have PDF’s for download. Run, do not walk…)

1 July 2015

I watched this because I dearly love an end-of-the-world oe disaster movie. Then too it had Emma Watson whom I also like. Sadly I was disappointed. The work reminded me of the elderly Edwardian lady’s advice to the young man.
“Funny is good, funny and vulgar is permissable. But be one or the other and never merely vulgar.”
It isn’t that I don’t like crass humour, I enjoyed the Porky’s moves and others of their ilk, but they managed to be vulgar AND funny. This one failed. It was confusing, humourlessly crass and a self-indulgent mess. A pity, as I’d hoped it would be otherwise. But, sic biscuit disintergraf.

14 June 2015

Published 2015 Abacus paperback.
Another gentle pleasant book in the series. I thought that perhaps this was a trifle more lightweight than previous books, but the sheer charm of the characters always carries me into finishing and adding the book to my shelves. And in this story there are genuine problems to solve. At Speedy Motors there has been a slow townturn in business and they can no longer afford to have two assistants there, so Charlie as the one who has still not gained his mechanic qualifications must be fired. Precious Ramotswe promptly hires him to work in the detective agency, but how will she pay him and can she find enough work to keep herself and Mma Makutsi going? And even if she can manage those things, how much use will Charlie really be? And while she is resolving those questions she is also coping with her assistant who has opened The Handsome Man’s Deluxe Cafe with dubious staff, and with the return of Violet Septhotho who has become a restaurant cric and is delighted to have the opportunity to criticize anything at all in which Mma Makutsi is involved. The story takes the scenic route through all these events and after I closed the book I decided that all in all it had been interesting. I’d enjoyed the tale, the characters and the events, and the book has joined the rest of the series on my shelf. Lightweight? Yes, a little, but it is still a ‘keeper’ to be re-read and re-read in future, and really, you can’t say better than that.

20 May 2015

I was a little worried when I finally obtained a copy of this one. A Turn of Light had been so great I wasn’t certain that the author could do it again but she has! Jenn Nalynn is back, together with Wisp the dragon, Scourge the kaur, her father and sister, and Bannan, along with the entire village of Marrowdell with all its magic. But Jenn is changing, becoming something else, and Bannan’s nephews have arrived, sent to him because his sister has gone to find her husband, their father, and two small boys will be a lot safer with Bannan. Or will they? And we find at once that no, they won’t be. That Jenn’s changes are profound, will she even be human once they’re done? And what of Bannan’s sister whom her son ‘sees’ locked in a stone cell? Bannan and Jenn set out to find his sister and brother-in-law who are missing in a far country, but not before some suspicious and deadly events in Marrowdell lead them to believe that all is not as it seems.
A Play of Shadows is a terrific successor to A Turn of Light. Not every author that wants to write both SF and fantasy is good at both but Czerneda succeeds magnificently. Her magic aspects are entrancing, the author managing to create magic that is a brilliant variation on the standard tropes. Jenn’s changes and her distress over them rings true, and her growing romance with Bannan and her doubts and fears over that only render her more human. Wisp the dragon is far from standard and Scourge the kaur manages to be both partially equine and a real grumpy dangerous personality in his own right. I look forward immensely to the next book with these characters and on that I do have one complaint. Waiting two years for this book was painful , a year would be better, so write faster, Julie, there’s a lot of us out there waiting.
And one more thing that I bet a lot of readers will be asking, I loved the house toads in both books, but still more I love the one depicted with Julie in her husband’s gorgeous photo inside back cover. Where can I get one and how much do they cost because that one is terminally cute, beautifully made, has the look of something wise and alive, and I’d love one of my own.

30 April 2015

This isn’t so much a review, more a note to fellow readers. For those younger amongst us, this trilogy was The Time of the Dark, The Walls of Air, and The Armies of Daylight, published in the early 1980s. I have just been told that the trilogy is being republished as ebooks. I bought the print books at the time and still have those. I’ve recently re-read them (for about the 6th time) and loved them as much as ever. They were and are brilliant fantasy, thoughtful, great character developement, and a brilliant setting. They were followed some 15 years later by Mother of Winter and Icefalcon’s Quest – about which everything I’ve said also applies. If you love good well-written fantasy, with equal time for strong female characters, go buy this trilogy, and the other two if/when they appear as ebooks too. More than 30 years later, I can honestly say that my copies were very well worth what I paid.

18 April 2015

paperback published Tor January 2015
I started reading this series when the first one came out and have bought every book since, including the short story collection in TPB. I am saddened to hear that the next may be the last in the line as I love Kitty and don’t much enjoy the other series the author has begun. A matter of personal taste I hasten to add.
So, in Low Midnight the book opens with Cormac about to be released from jail and listening to the warden uttering a list of platitudes, saying goodbye and wishing him well. This story is mostly Cormac and his spirit passenger, Amelia. They are on the trail of a diary that may contain sufficient information to allow Kitty, Ben, Cormac and Amelia to successfully defend themselves and even the world against the machinations of Roman the Vampire. All Cormac and Amelia have to do is decode the diary.
Not so simple. Because to persuade a relative of the person who wrote the diary to provide the key to that, they have to find out how a magician was mysteriously killed more than a hundred years ago, work around two groups involved in a number of illegal activities both of which know Cormac, cope with a skinwalker, and Cormac’s old love, and manage these things while Cormac cannot carry or use guns. I found this book a pleasant read, perhaps a little lighter in quality than usual because it is the set-up book for the final volume but still I enjoyed it and as I was reading it as the next in a series of which I have always enjoyed the characters, I didn’t mind. I have Kitty Saves The World on pre-order and look forward to that. The set will stay on my shelf to be re-read again and again over time, and you can’t say much better than that for a book series.

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