Category Archives: Reviews

And Then I Read: THE QUEEN OF SUMMER’S TWILIGHT by Charles Vess

I’ve known Charles for many years, and have long been a fan of his art. This is his first novel, years in the making, and I enjoyed reading it. I was a little disappointed not to find more illustrations, there are just two: the excellent cover above and a small one on the title page.

Janet Ravenscroft lives in a mansion in Scotland that’s more like a private prison. Her father, a wealthy businessman, does all he can to keep her there, and will never speak about Janet’s mother. Their relationship is hostile, and Janet escapes to nearby Inverness whenever she can to have some fun, drown her sorrows, and express her anger. Meanwhile, at a long-abandoned farmhouse in the countryside, a man with oddly antique clothing is exploring the family graveyard and finding a way into the locked garage, where an old motorcycle waits to take him on a new adventure. This is Tom Lynn, and the farm was once his home many decades ago before he accidentally found himself in Faery. There he became the consort of the Queen, and served her for years, until the Queen fell into madness, and Thomas learned that she sent part of herself into the mundane world. Thomas is on a quest to find those missing parts of the Queen so that she may regain her sanity and restore her kingdom, which has fallen into ruin.

When Thomas meets Janet in Inverness, the wheels of chance and fate spin them together onto a whirlwind journey, pursued by the agents of Faery’s Lord of Darkness, who also wants the elements of the Queen which seem to be buried deep in Janet’s mind. In time they are drawn into Faery, where they become prisoners of the Lord of Darkness and all hope seems lost, but is it?

This book draws on Scottish folk ballads, especially those about Tam Lin, long an interest of Charles, but the story adds modern elements and takes surprising turns. It’s both a visual story, with descriptions from a painter’s viewpoint, and a musical story, with many ballad quotes and ideas. At first I found Janet’s anger hard to take, but I came around to her eventually. Thomas seemed more appealing, but later in the story he becomes such a foolish slave to his honor that I liked him less. Other characters, like Janet’s father John and the elderly witch Mother Hainter, have important parts to play, and the wonders of Faery, both light and dark, infuse the story alongside the realities of the modern mundane world, providing appealing contrast.

I recommend this book, though as a friend of Charles, how could I not be rooting for him? Still, if you like fantasy, I think you’ll find much to entertain you within. Well done!

The Queen of Summer’s Twilight by Charles Vess


I saw this book recommended highly by Kurt Busiek, and decided to try it. I’m glad I did.

As a child, Sadie Green is spending time in a Los Angeles hospital visiting her sister, who is being treated for cancer. She encounters a boy, Sam Masur, who is in the same hospital with a badly damaged foot from a car accident, and undergoing many painful surgeries. He speaks to no one, and loses his pain by playing video games. Sadie joins him and they gradually become friends. Later, they have a falling out and don’t see each other for years.

Later, while both are attending college in Boston, they meet accidentally and the friendship is rekindled. They both still love video games, and each is thinking about a career making them. Sam and Sadie decide to work together to create a new game, and after much labor, they succeed with the help of Sam’s friend Marx, who has the business acumen to sell their game and help them create a company to make more. While they share much while working together, Sam and Sadie still have a lot of barriers between them, and this book explores their journey, not only as game makers, but as people trying to understand each other and the unspoken bonds between them.

This is not the kind of book I usually read, but it’s well written, and perhaps I enjoyed it all the more as a change of pace. Then too, the creation of video games and the fantasy worlds in them, is not far from topics I usually read about, and it was interesting to learn more about that. The human stories are really the core of the book, and beautifully handled, with no easy answers but realistic ones instead. Recommended.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

And Then I Read: THE URTH OF THE NEW SUN by Gene Wolfe

Gene Wolfe’s books that I’ve read so far have been a mixed bag for me. I liked “The Book of the New Sun,” a four-novel series which I reviewed in PART ONE and PART TWO, but did not at all like his novel “Peace.” This book is called a coda to Book of the New Sun, so I thought I’d try it. It follows Severian, the ruler or Autarch of Urth, which is our own world far in the future when our sun is dying. Severian has been granted a chance to travel through space to the distant world of Yesod to be judged. If he is worthy, he will be granted the power to bring a new sun to Urth, restoring vitality to the world, but at the cost of great cataclysms and calamities for the inhabitants.

Wolfe has an annoying tendency to bury or skip over the most important events of a story, leaving the reader puzzled and unsure what exactly happened, or at least this reader. It was so in Book of the New Sun a few times, but there was enough continuous narrative around those events to make filling in the blanks not too difficult. Peace was just the opposite, I never could figure out exactly what was happening, and the story skipped around continuously in time to add to the confusion. This novel is somewhere between those two poles, with more annoying guesswork and skipping around in time than Book. I enjoyed parts of it, but overall I can’t recommend it, and I found it frustrating and disappointing as a sequel. The book was nominated for several top awards, so I might be in a minority here, and if you’re interested, I suggest you try it for yourself.

The Urth of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe

Rereading: GONE-AWAY LAKE and RETURN TO GONE-AWAY by Elizabeth Enright

Covers and interior illustrations by Beth and Joe Krush

Elizabeth Enright was one of my favorite authors as a child, and I still love her books. I continue to find them beautifully written, clever, funny, and full of surprises. One thing that impresses me more now than it did back then is her knowledge of nature: plants, animals, birds, insects, all are described from the viewpoint of careful observation and accurate detail. Her handling of people is just as good.

These two books take place mostly during summer vacations for Portia Blake and her little brother Foster. They travel by train about 100 miles from their home in New York City to stay with an aunt and uncle and cousin Julian in a rural small town. Julian is a collector of many things, and a nature lover, and Portia and he get along well. Foster fortunately has a friend his own age to play with.

One day while out hiking in the woods, Julian and Portia discover an amazing forgotten place that was once a summer resort beside a lake, but then the lake drained away leaving a marsh, and soon all the vacation homes were abandoned and left empty. This happened about 50 years before the story takes place, around 1900. Two children who spent their summers at this idyllic lake resort quietly returned there in old age to live, having no better place to go. They’ve renovated two of the old Victorian houses that are in the best condition, and enjoy life as neighbors and companions, raising and harvesting some food themselves, gardening and keeping up parts of the old resort. They’re Minnehaha Cheever and her brother Pindar, who have slipped back to the days of their childhood, wearing the antique clothes stored in the houses, and with an equally antique automobile that allows Pindar to get to the nearest town for supplies they need. When Portia and Julian meet them, a fast friendship is begun, and the children learn many interesting things about Gone-Away Lake, as it’s now called, including dangers like the quicksand trap called The Gulper. The elders tell them many stories about their childhood, and the children explore the abandoned houses. Foster eventually finds his way to the place the older children have kept secret, and gets into trouble, paving the way for adults in the family to learn about and become friends with the Cheevers too.

In the second book, Portia and Foster’s parents have bought one of the abandoned houses from the state, the only one that was never broken into by scavengers, and everyone works on exploring it, cleaning it, and gradually restoring it to a new life as a summer home for the Blakes. Many more adventures are had, many more stories are told, and a treasure is eventually found.

Highly recommended, along with Enright’s other books like those about The Melendy Family.

Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright


This is the second book in Cornelia Funke’s Reckless series. Jacob Reckless has a portal into another world, one filled with difficult magic, dangerous people, and deadly curses. In the first book we saw how Jacob learned to navigate this world and become a treasure hunter in it, but one of those deadly curses was laid upon him. In this second book he is trying desperately to find a way to lift the curse and survive, along with his companion and friend Fox, a shape-shifter, and helped by a greedy dwarf, Valiant. Jacob wants to find a treasure that may help him, and that involves tracing and recovering several body parts of a long-dead sorcerer. Another treasure hunter is on the same trail, and has no compunctions about killing Jacob and his friends to get there first, and there are plenty of other roadblocks and perils along the way.

I wanted to like this series as much as Funke’s brilliant “Inkheart” one of some years ago, but I didn’t. Jacob is not a likable character for one thing. He’s manipulative, sneaky and self-centered. I did find his companion Fox more appealing, but that wasn’t enough to make the series work. The first book had more character development, this one seemed plot-driven and action-adventure took precedence over character. I doubt I will bother to read later books in the series. Mildly recommended for creative magic and world-building.

Reckless Living Shadows by Cornelia Funke