Bill Capossere

BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

The Ghost Variations: A collection of 100 flash stories

The Ghost Variations by Kevin Brockmeier

The Ghost Variations (2021) by Kevin Brockmeier is a collection of 100 flash stories, all involving ghosts, though the meaning of that word is stretched in some of them. In structure, style, flavor, and tone, the collection reminded me most of Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman, although it also calls up echoes of Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges.

The stories are grouped into various sections, such as “Ghosts and Memory,” “Ghosts and Nature,” “Ghosts and Love and Friendship,” and “Ghosts and Family.”... Read More

Burning Girls and Other Stories: Great opening, strong close, uneven in between

Burning Girls and Other Stories by Veronica Schanoes

Veronica Schanoes’ collection Burning Girls and Other Stories (2021) started strong, hit a rough patch for a lengthy time, then ended strong. It is, therefore, the epitome of the mixed bag. Of the thirteen tales, I found one to be a standout, two others good, a few solid ones and a number that didn’t do anything for me. I won’t go through each one, but here are my responses to several of the stories.
“Among the Thorns”: This is the opening piece and is also the one I thought stood out amongst the collection. Not only is it a strong opening story, but it’s also a killer opening line and paragraph:

They made my father dance in thorns before they killed him.

I used to think that this was a metaphor, that they beat him with thorny vines, perhaps. But I was wrong about that.

They made him danc... Read More

The Conductors: Slow and muddy

The Conductors by Nicole Glover

The Conductors (2021), by Nicole Glover, has lots of elements I’d normally eat up like a buffet: a historical setting (late 1800s Philadelphia), a focus on social injustice, a murder mystery, magic systems. Unfortunately, the elements never cohered into a story that held my attention, making the novel a real struggle. I thought about giving up on it relatively early, but kept pushing through despite my instincts, probably helped by the fact that my Kindle wasn’t showing my progress despite my repeated attempts to force it to do so. Eventually, I picked it up on a different device, realized I’d hit the two-thirds point, and figuring that was more than fair, skimmed through the rest.

Henrietta (“Hetty”) and Benjy Rhodes are known as “The Conductors” for their fabled exploits leading slaves from captivity into the free s... Read More

A Desolation Called Peace: Wonderfully rich and nuanced

A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine

A Desolation Called Peace (2021) is Arkady Martine’s direct sequel to A Memory Called Empire, which was one of my favorite works in 2019. While not quite as strong, the standard being set so high simply means A Desolation Called Peace is an “excellent” rather than “great” read, and thus one that is easy to recommend.

As noted, this is a direct sequel, so you’ll definitely need to have read the first book before stepping into this one. The main characters — some familiar, some new — include:

Mahit Dzmare: resident of Lsel Station and former (well, technically current, but it’s complicated) ambassador to Teix... Read More

Thoughtful Thursday: Promising new authors!

The announcement of a new book by one of our long-standing favorite writers is always cause for excitement and then eager anticipation.

Just as exciting is the discovery of a new talent, though here the joy is not anticipated but comes partway through a reading as the realization dawns that we are indeed reading something outstanding, written by someone who just might be added to that list of favorite authors.

Given this past year we’ve all had, that sort of discovery is all the more treasured.

So what say you readers? What relatively new authors in the past 1-2 years have broken through for you into that rarefied atmosphere?

Or if not new writers, maybe a writer you’ve just come across (and are now frantically going through their backlist until their next new title comes out).

For me, I’d place Micaiah Johnson and Read More

A History of What Comes Next: Good concept, weak execution

Reposting to include Tadiana's new review.

A History of What Comes Next by Sylvain Neuvel

Sylvain Neuvel’s A History of What Comes Next (2021) has both an intriguing premise and a potentially tense conflict at its core, but due to some issues with structure and style, the execution didn’t allow the book to achieve its potential.

Two women, Sara and her daughter Mia, are sort of Space Race Zeligs (look him up, youngsters), inserting themselves in key times and places to push humanity toward the stars. To that end, we see Mia go undercover in Germany at the tail end of WWII to spirit Wernher von Braun and key assistants to the US as part of Operation Paperclip (a real mission). Later, the two move to Russia where they jumpstart the Russian space program in the (correct) belief that it wo... Read More

Silence of the Soleri: Stopped halfway through

Silence of the Soleri by Michael Johnston

I gave a 2½-star rating for Michael Johnston’s Soleri, and was hoping to see some improvement in the sequel, Silence of the Soleri (2021). Unfortunately, the book tipped in the other direction, so much so that I gave up at the halfway point. As usual with DNF reviews, this will be brief.

The problems here were pretty much the same as I noted in my review of book one. Characterization was thin, prose was only adequate, plotting felt scattershot and unbalanced. Several scenes I wasn’t sure of the point.

And worse here than in book one was the logistics — multiple times I had no idea how settings related to one another, how many people we... Read More

Cathedral of Bones: Lovecraftian YA done right

Cathedral of Bones by A.J. Steiger

Young teen Simon Frost has had a rough start to his early life. His twin sister was murdered several years ago, his mother vanished shortly thereafter leaving only a note, his father was expelled from the Foundation amid darkly ominous rumors about his research, and Simon himself has shown so little talent as a Foundation animist not a single mentor will take him on, leaving him relegated to working in the mailroom sorting requests for the Foundation’s aid from citizens and towns/cities. When the Foundation ignores a letter from a small asking for assistance against a dangerous monster, Simon takes it on himself to come to their aid, the first step on a journey that will find him an unexpected ally and change everything he knows about the Foundation, himself, his family, and his world.

In Cathedral of Bones (2020), A.J. Steiger has crafted a Lovecrafti... Read More

On Fragile Waves: Lyrical, moving, and at times heartrending

On Fragile Waves by E. Lily Yu

In the opening pages of On Fragile Waves (2021), by E. Lily Yu, young Firuzeh, her brother Naur, and their parents are on the start of a long journey from war-torn Kabul to the hope of a better life in Australia. To pass the time on that first leg, Firuzeh’s mother entertains them with a fairy tale. But the novel will be no fairy tale, as the family makes its way through Pakistan to Indonesia to an immigration detention camp on Nauru Island and finally to Australia itself, facing loss and discrimination, poverty and indignity, and a long-standing instability and uncertainty that erodes their family ties. Filled with poetry, fairy tales, and flashes of magical realism in the form of a drowned girl who remains Firuzeh’s best friend, On Fragile Waves is a lyrical, moving, and at times heartrending story.

The journey is fraught with... Read More

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle: Compelling, twisty, sneaky

Reposting to include Bill's new review.

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

Debut author Stuart Turton’s The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (2018), originally published earlier this year in Great Britain as The 7 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, is an intricately plotted murder mystery, set in an isolated early 20th century English mansion, with a highly imaginative speculative element that is only gradually revealed, as our main character tries to figure out who he really is, and how to solve the mystery of Evelyn Hardcastle’s pending death … or has her death already occurred?

The plot and setting are worthy of Agatha Christie: Lord and Lady Hardcastle have invited a number of guests to their British country mansion, Blackheath House, for a weekend party to celebrate the return of their daughter, Evelyn, from Paris. (The notable guests... Read More

The Absolute Book: Just didn’t grab me

The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox

The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox has a lot going on in it, but too little of it, unfortunately for me, captured my interest or attention and so I ended up giving up about 40% of the way through.

Taryn Cornick’s sister died years ago after being struck by a car — apparently purposely, though it’s unclear. Now, with the driver soon to be getting out of prison, Taryn meets a strangely compelling hunter known as The Muleskinner, who offers up a tempting proposal that will change Taryn’s life as much as her sister’s death. Soon, Taryn finds herself being haunted by threatening phone calls, hounded by a relentlessly inquisitive policeman, caught up in an investigation by (maybe) MI5, possessed by a demon, conversing with faerie and gods, and traveling between our world a... Read More

Winterkeep: Return to a favorite series not fully successful

Winterkeep by Kristin Cashore

Winterkeep
(2021) is the fourth book set in Kristin Cashore’s GRACELING REALM fantasy world, the prior novels being Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue. The first was a five-star, best-of-the-year choice for me, and Fire was nearly as good. The third book was a bit of a drop-off, though not far. Unfortunately though, Winterkeep continues that downward trend, leaving me, I confess, more than a little disappointed, though the book does end well.

In the past, Cashore has eschewed the traditional sequel mode of following the ... Read More

First Light: Switching on Stars at the Dawn of Time

First Light: Switching on Stars at the Dawn of Time by Emma Chapman

In First Light (2021), Emma Chapman covers the earliest eras of the universe’s existence, particularly focusing on what astronomers, due to their lack of information, call the “Dark Ages,” from about 380,000 years to one billion years after the Big Bang occurred. Even more specifically, her interest lies with the creation of the first stars and the current attempt to find out more about them.

Despite the focus, Chapman manages to bring in a host of other astronomical discoveries/investigations: the Cosmic Microwave background, inflation, dark matter, space telescopes, radio astronomy, Fast Radio Bursts, black holes, the Great Oxygenation Event, and others. She also goes on a variety of non-astronomical tangents involving King Tut’s tomb and pigeons (yes, pigeons).

Chapman does an excellent job explaining some compli... Read More

A Thousand Ships: Familiar stories with a feminist focus

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

In A Thousand Ships (2021), Natalie Haynes takes the events of the Trojan War — along with what led to it and what followed — and offers them up in familiar form but a form as viewed/experienced through different eyes: those of the women from both sides who experienced as much if not more of the war’s horrors even if (save for one point-of-view) they didn’t actually fight in it.

Haynes frames her story through the voice of Calliope, who, as an unnamed poet (Homer, one assumes) calls upon her to be his muse, wonders, “How much epic poetry does the world really need ... these stories have all been told, and countless times. Can he really believe he has something new to say?” Regardless, Calliope does engage, though perhaps not as the poet desired: “I’m offering him the story of all the women in the war. Well, most of them.” And in short o... Read More

Remote Control: A gently moving and thoughtful novella

Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor

Remote Control (2021) is the newest novella from Nnedi Okorafor, a quiet, interior-focused and episodic work that is at times a haunting, tragic coming of age tale of magic and mystery, at other times a concisely and sharply effective observer of modern trends, and, depending on the reader, at other times a frustratingly vague story full of unanswered questions. Overall, I enjoyed it quite a bit, finding it to be the sort of story that lingers in the head.

Six-year-old Fatima lives a happy family life in a near-future Ghana despite her frequent bouts with malaria. But when a meteor shower filled with “beautiful green streaks decorating the sky” drops at the base of her favorite tree a “seed [that] glowed a bright green [with] light seeping from it like oil,” it changes her life and those of everyon... Read More

Across the Green Grass Fields: A weaker entry in a highly praised series

Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire

I’ve been hit and miss on Seanan McGuire’s WAYWARD CHILDREN portal series, finding some of the novellas lyrical and emotional and others frustratingly slapdash. Her newest, Across the Green Grass Fields (2021), unfortunately falls closer to the latter end of the spectrum.

As one expects by now, we have a young girl who steps through a doorway into another world. We meet Regan first at seven, part of a best friends trio with Heather Nelson and Laurel Anderson. Quickly, though, she gets drawn into one of those cruel moments of childhood where demarcations are drawn. When queen bee Laurel arbitrarily shuns Heather, deciding she isn’t “girly” enough, Regan, learning quickly “this is what it costs to be different,” goes along with it. Years... Read More

The Fictional Man: Could have been more

The Fictional Man by Al Ewing

A number of times while reading The Fictional Man, by Al Ewing, I felt like I was on the edge of a great book. Like one of those clichéd oases in any stranded-in-the-desert movie, I could see it glimmering and hazy just at the edge of the horizon. But every time I thought I was nearly there, I was left with just more sand. Though that’s more than a little unfair. The Fictional Man is better than sand, but as tantalizing as it is it never got beyond decent for me.

Ewing sets the story in an LA not too different from our own — still filled with movie stars, sun, diners, loudly rude producers, corrupt agents, etc. What separates this world from our own is the creation of Fictionals in 1977 — clones created by the entertainment industry with the look and pre-programmed personality/mind of characters (already in existence or origin... Read More

A Deadly Education: Sharp character insights, fantastic originality

Reposting to include Tadiana's new review.

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

I honestly had a very hard time with the beginning of Naomi Novik’s newest novel, A Deadly Education (2020). But based on my experience with her prior work, I kept going and though I don’t think this novel nears the strength of ones like Spinning Silver or Uprooted, I was happy I did.

El (short for Galadriel) Higgins is a student at the Scholomance, a sort of sentient, no-professors-here, boarding school for sorcerers. Students have various tracks of magic, the school presents them with lessons, suppli... Read More

The Mask of Mirrors: Does just what you want a first novel in a series to do

The Mask of Mirrors by M.A. Carrick

As a reader, it’s rare for me to find a book that has nearly every trope I love. The Mask of Mirrors (2021), Book One of M.A. Carrick’s ROOK AND ROSE series, manages just that. Reading the Advance Reader Copy of this book was like nibbling my way through a box of gourmet chocolates curated just for Reader Me. A large box of gourmet chocolates.

And what are those favorite tropes? Well, con artists, secret identities, false identities, masked outlaws who fight for the common people, dangerously suave criminals, sword fights, dramas of manners, verbal duels, physical duels, intriguing magic, family secrets, cool clothes, masks of course, and, yes, chocolate. I was going to say, “there were no magic books,” but I’m revising that — there are divination cards that function much the way a good magical book does.
Read More

Wonder Women and Bad Girls: Superheroine and Supervillainess Archetypes in Popular Media

Wonder Women and Bad Girls: Superheroine and Supervillainess Archetypes in Popular Media by Valerie Estelle Frankel

Wonder Women and Bad Girls: Superheroine and Supervillainess Archetypes in Popular Media (2020), by Valerie Estelle Frankel, pretty much lays it all out in the title. Starting in the earliest days of comic books and progressing through the decades to the present, Frankel explores a boatload of characters, the famous and expected (Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Black Widow, Storm, Catwoman) and the lesser known and unexpected (Rulah Jungle Goddess, Pow-Girl, Veda the Cobra Woman). The breadth is a definite strength of the book, though I found myself wanting more depth, especially as when it was there it was insightful.

After a brief introduction, Frankel first moves chronologically through “The Classic Super Eras,” discussing Sheena, The Wasp, the Powerpuff Girls, and Captain Marvel, amongst others. Then the sections ar... Read More

Elatsoe: A strong story exploring complex societal issues

Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger

Elatsoe (2020), a YA debut by Darcie Little Badger, creates a richly woven world of folklore, myth, story, friendship, and family, all set in “a slightly stranger America,” one “very similar to our own … [but] shaped dramatically by the magic, monsters, knowledge, and legends of its peoples, those Indigenous and not.” As a debut, it shows some of the typical first-book characteristics (issues with pacing, transitions, etc.), but it’s overall a warmly rewarding and enjoyable read.

Elatsoe — “Ellie” for nearly all the book — is a 17-year-old Lipan Apache girl with the ability to raise ghosts, a skill passed down through generations of her family. Ellie used her gift most recently to raise the ghost of her dead springer spaniel, Kirby, who is now always by her side as companion and protector. While Ellie and her ancestors can raise human ghosts, it is stric... Read More

Piranesi: “The Beauty of the House is immeasurable” indeed

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

I was going to start this review of Piranesi (2020) by Susanna Clarke by stating that I was of two minds on the novel and then noting that this was both appropriate and also strong praise. Appropriate because the book is in many ways of the mind, and is as well of two worlds. Strong praise because my two minds were “I loved it” followed by “I liked it.” But then I thought more about it, and I decided my minds were really “I loved it,” “I liked it,” then “I loved it” again. But I could work with that, because really, the book functions on more than two levels. But then I thought about my reading some more, and I decided that my mind now was simply, singularly, “it’s brilliant.” Which is still, granted, strong praise, but no long... Read More

Magic: A History: From Alchemy to Witchcraft, from the Ice Age to the Present

Magic: A History: From Alchemy to Witchcraft, from the Ice Age to the Present by Chris Gosden

Chris Gosden takes on a lot in Magic: A History: From Alchemy to Witchcraft, from the Ice Age to the Present (2020) — a history of magic through time and space, skipping across millennia and the continents. Though “history” might be a tad misleading, in that Gosden includes our current age in his survey and then makes a call for magic to, if not “return” (he would argue it never left), to at least reclaim its equal position beside its younger siblings in what he calls the triple helix of magic, religion, and science. Such an ambitious project in terms of scale necessarily makes some sacrifice when it comes to specificity, and one might wish for a more focused exploration of cultural magic or find fault with some generalizations, but there’s certainly merit in the exploration despite the pitfalls, and Gosden offers u... Read More

Batman: 100 Greatest Moments: Fun reference with a lot of illustrations

Batman: 100 Greatest Moments by Robert Greenberger

Batman: 100 Greatest Moments (2019), by Robert Greenberger, like his Flash: 100 Greatest Moments which I previously reviewed (and will borrow some of here due to the similarities) is a browser’s reference book that offers up a comic reader’s cornucopia of illustrations, something one always hopes for in this sort of book. As the title says, it’s a look at an (obviously subjective) list of highlights from the near-century the classic character has been around. While some fans might quibble here and there, the list as a whole is most likely going to find general consensus.

As noted, while one can read it cover to cover, it’s more a browsing kind of book. I say that because it doesn’t go in chronological order, nor does it go into a deep di... Read More

Flash: 100 Greatest Moments: Fun, fully-illustrated reference

Flash: 100 Greatest Moments by Robert Greenberger

Flash: 100 Greatest Moments (2020), by Robert Greenberger, is a browser’s reference book that doesn’t stint on illustrations, always a plus for this sort of subject.

As the title says, it’s a look at a (obviously subjective) list of highlights from the eight or so decades the character has been around.

While some fans might quibble here and there, the list as a whole is most likely going to find general consensus.

As noted, while one can read it cover to cover, it’s more a browsing kind of book. I say that because it doesn’t go in chronological order, nor does it go into a deep dive in any particular area.

So it’s not meant to be read as an analysis, say, of the character’s changes over time. One picks up on those changes while reading, but as the entries shift around in time, it’s not a unified... Read More

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