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.

Baba Yaga’s Assistant: A compelling tale by a gifted collaboration

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Baba Yaga's Assistant by Marika McCoola (author) & Emily Carroll (illustrator)

Baba Yaga's Assistant, by Marika McCoola and illustrated by Emily Carroll, is a MG graphic novel that tries to work the frightening richness of the Baba Yaga folktales into the press of modern family life, but despite the great source material, the attempt falls short, though it has its moments.

The protagonist is Masha, a young girl whose father has just proposed to a woman sometime after her mother's death. Her father had relegated most of Masha’s upbringing to her grandmo... Read More

The History of Gibbeting: Britain’s Most Brutal Punishment

The History of Gibbeting: Britain’s Most Brutal Punishment by Samantha Priestley

The History of Gibbeting: Britain’s Most Brutal Punishment (2020), by Samantha Priestley, is an interesting and somewhat informative, if overly long, look at the tradition of “hanging in chains,” as it was often called at the time.

Priestley offers up a general introduction to the practice followed by several sections: The Murder Act, The Making of a Gibbet, Infamy, Thieves and Pirates, That’s Entertainment, The Gibbet as Landmark, No Deterrent, The Decline of the Gibbet, A Modern Fascination.

The first looks at the impact of the 1752 law, which attempted to standardize the hodgepodge application of the gibbet. We also get a sense of the frequency of gibbeting (relatively rare), the crimes it was associated with (murder, piracy, and stealing the Royal Mail, mostly), and whether or not criminals were ever gibbe... Read More

Thoughtful Thursday: Reading during a pandemic

If you’re coming to this site, then you’re most likely a fellow reader. Which means during these unsettled times, like us, when you can, you take refuge in what has always been a solace to you — books. That’s often a connecting thread amongst readers, though how we find that needed comfort varies.

Some of us may find it by learning as much as we can about what’s scaring us, tracking the idea of “knowledge is power” and so giving us a semblance of control, even if it’s illusory. Even if we know it’s illusory. So we read everything on this particular virus, or infectious diseases, or histories of, say, the Spanish Flu. Other may go the opposite path, turning away from the too-real world and diving headlong into fantasy, the more removed from our own world the better. Give me dragons! Give me invincible Dark Lords overcome! Or maybe we’ll go the obvious route: I’m feeling sad; I’ll find a book that will make me laugh (or read some Pratchett and kill ... Read More

The Cerulean Queen: Takes a step backwards

The Cerulean Queen by Sarah Kozloff

In my review of The Broken Queen, the penultimate chapter of Sarah Kozloff’s NINE REALMS tetralogy, I said I was going to need a “slambang ending” to be able to recommend the series. Unfortunately, after finishing the series’ concluding novel, The Cerulean Queen (2020), I can’t say I got the close I was hoping for.

The final novel picks up where the last one finished (warning, some possible spoilers for books 1-3 ahead), with Cerulia poised to try and take back her throne from the usurper Matwyck. It’s not a spoiler to note she succeeds, given that it happens pretty quickly, and then the novel turns away from reclamation and more toward ruling. The new ob... Read More

A Broken Queen: Series is beginning to feel its length

A Broken Queen by Sarah Kozloff

A Broken Queen (2020) is the third book in Sarah Kozloff’s NINE REALMS series, with each book being published only a month apart, and to be honest, I sort of wish I’d waited for them all to come out and then reviewed the series as a whole, mostly because I feel I’ll just be repeating myself in this review, and, if things go as they have been, in the review of book four as well.

In that vein, mostly what I’ve been saying about the first two books (A Queen in Hiding and The Queen of Raiders) is that they’re readable enough, even somewhat enjoyable, but they leave me wanting more as a ... Read More

Vagabonds: Complex ideas, but not enough other development

Vagabonds by Hao Jingfang, translated by Ken Liu

I really tried to give Hao Jingfang’s Vagabonds (2020; translated by Ken Liu) a fair shake, pressing on even though I’d had problems with the book relatively early. And I think, given that I just about reached the halfway point (48% according to by Kindle), I did give the book a decent enough chance to win me over. But I just couldn’t push myself past that 50%, despite some intriguing ideas.

In the world of Vagabonds, Mars and Earth are in that awkward quasi-peace period after Mars decided they wanted to be independent some time back, sparking a destructive war whose repercussions are still being felt. The novel stars with the return of some young Martians who had been sent as a delegation to Earth a few years earlier as part of the reconci... Read More

Anthropocene Rag: Its strengths outweigh its few issues

Anthropocene Rag by Alex Irvine

I’m of mixed feelings on Anthropocene Rag (2020), by Alex Irvine. On the one hand, the writing is often quite strong, and the novel has a creative, imaginative flair to it in many moments. On the other hand, its episodic nature didn’t fully work for me, and I can’t say the novel fully met its rich potential. Still, its strengths outweigh its weaknesses, and there’s often a true pleasure in reading it.

The story is set in a post “Boom” America, the Boom being when AI ran free and randomly (to human eyes at least) transformed things and people, “revising” the known world and creating beings called “constructs” that can’t always be distinguished from humans. Various parts of the country are varied in their degree of change and danger, with San Francisco one of the better “boomscapes” thanks to having electricity and food. Even there, ... Read More

Val Hall: The Even Years: An intriguing premise

Val Hall: The Even Years by Alma Alexander

Val Hall: The Even Years (2020), by Alma Alexander, is a series of linked stories set in a sort of retirement home for gifted or powered people (though only to a certain limited degree). Each story follows a single individual who relates their story to another character, usually sending us back in time to their first usage of their power. As is typical with collections, the stories vary in quality and effect, but Alexander does a nice job with the intriguing premise, offering up several quite moving moments, and the whole work left me looking forward to its follow-up, Val Hall: The Odd Years.

Following a prologue that explains where the idea for Val Hall came from, the collection presents eight stories — the final one a “bonus” story from ... Read More

Station Zero: A superb conclusion to an excellent YA trilogy

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Station Zero by Philip Reeve

With Station Zero (2019), Philip Reeve brings to an end the RAILHEAD trilogy begun with Railhead and Black Light Express, and if it’s not a perfect conclusion, it’s pretty darn close, leaving you at the end with a sense of satisfying, even gratifying, resolution tinged with a lingering bittersweetness that makes the final result all the more richly rewarding. With this Cosmic Railroad trilogy (not an official title) and his earlier PREDATOR CITIES/MORTAL ENGINES work, Reeve has served up three... Read More

Thoughtful Thursday: Ssssssnakesssss!

Snakes. They just don’t get a break. Adam and Eve. Cleopatra’s asp. Those ones on a plane. Even our very first story ever, Gilgamesh, has a snake screwing things up at the end.

And here we are about to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, and of course, one of his biggest claims to fame is how he drove those poor snakes out of Ireland entire.

Well, we’re here to speak for the snakes! (albeit not in parceltongue). Where would myth and fantasy be without them?

So, who are some of your favorite snakes and serpents appearing in fantasy, science fiction, or horror stories and films? Or, if you want to go more classical, myth and legend?

One random commenter will choose a book from our ssssstacksssss. Read More

Brightstorm: A solidly enjoyable MG adventure

Brightstorm by Vashti Hardy

Brightstorm (2020) introduces the two resourceful twins Arthur and Maudie, son and daughter of the famed explorer Ernest Brightstorm. The story opens grimly, with news that their father was lost on his latest expedition, an attempt to reach South Polaris by airship. Worse, his competitor, Eudora Vane, returned with the accusation that Brightstorm had stolen her ship’s fuel in an attempt to reach Polaris first, before failing and being killed, along with this entire crew, by vicious beasts. The news not only destroys the family name, but turns the twins into orphans (their mother died when they were born) who are quickly sold off into servitude.

But when the youthful Harriet Culpepper mounts another expedition to race Vane back to South Polaris, they and their father’s “sapient” hawk Parthena — sole survivor of their father’s journey — join her in an attempt to cle... Read More

Black Light Express: Does what every good sequel should

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Black Light Express by Philip Reeve

Black Light Express (2017) is Philip Reeve’s just-as-good-as-the-first-book follow up to Railhead, continuing the exhilarating romp while expanding the universe and its inhabitants, as well as digging a bit more deeply into the hidden history of the created world and offering up some more page time to some of the first book’s secondary characters. Warning: there will be some inevitable spoilers for book one (you can just stop here with the take-away that I recommend the duology). First spoiler begins in the very next line!

So at the end of Railhead, Nova and Zen had opened a gate to a whole othe... Read More

Servant of the Crown: A faltering close to the trilogy

Servant of the Crown by Duncan M. Hamilton

Servant of the Crown
(2020) closes out Duncan M. Hamilton’s DRAGONSLAYER trilogy, a series that I thought started out weakly with Dragonslayer and then improved somewhat, though not quite enough, with Knight of the Silver Circle. Unfortunately, I can’t say the third book continues that improvement, meaning I can’t recommend the series.

The book picks up shortly after the events of its predecessor with Guillot, Solene, and Pharadon trying to stop Prince Bishop Amaury from gaining the last Cup of Enlightenment. Guillot and Solene want to prevent A... Read More

The Queen of Raiders: Satisfying, but left me wanting more

The Queen of Raiders by Sarah Kozloff

The Queen of Raiders (2020) is Sarah Kozloff’s second installment in her NINE REALMS series. In my review of book one, A Queen in Hiding, I used words like “nice,” “serviceable,” “pleasurable,” “solid,” and “satisfying,” eventually closing with “I’m hoping for more as I keep going.” Unfortunately, I can’t say I got the “more” I was looking for, but the series does remain, well, solidly satisfying.

The story picks up where book one ended (I’m going to assume you’ve read it) and mostly follows two main characters: Cerulia, the queen in exile, as she tries to escape Lord Marwyck’s attempt to track her down and capture/kill he... Read More

Black Leviathan: Starts decently but becomes too scattered

Black Leviathan by Bernd Perplies, translated by Lucy Van Cleef

Vengeance is a tale as old as a time, and female characters have been killed in order to set male characters off on a protagonist’s journey since well before there were refrigerators (almost before there was ice). But it takes a particularly audacious ambition to use Moby Dick as an explicit inspiration for a coming-of-age fantasy set in a world where sky ships hunt dragons and one captain becomes maniacally obsessed with killing one such dragon. And for a little while there I was thinking Bernd Perplies, author of Black Leviathan (2020) (translated in the US by Lucy Van Cleef), might be able to match execution to ambition. But while the story ends up being relatively entertaining, issues toward the close and an overall surface-level narrative had the execution falling short.

The story opens with a... Read More

The Lost Future of Pepperharrow: Left me wanting

The Lost Future of Pepperharrow by Natasha Pulley

I found Natasha Pulley’s The Watchmaker of Filigree Street entirely charming even if I didn’t fall wholly in love with it. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the same positive response to the sequel, The Lost Future of Pepperharrow (2020), which felt meandering and surprisingly flat to me, despite some solid moments.

It’s half a decade after the events of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, and after a brief time in Russia and London, Pulley shifts the vast majority of her story to Japan in the late 1800s (with flashbacks to earlier times in the country). Keita Mori, clockmaker and clairvoyant who can “remember” possibl... Read More

The Last Day: A decent techno-thriller

The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray

The Last Day (2020), by Andrew Hunter Murray, is a sci-fi thriller, though to be honest I found both elements (the science and the thrills) to be a bit slight and while it’s a highly readable work, I’d call it moderately engaging or tense.

The book opens some decades after “The Slow” (or “The Stop”), when the Earth’s rotation gradually declined then halted altogether, plunging half the planet — the “Coldside” into uninhabitable cold and darkness and the other half into a baking sunlit zone. The UK found itself in the goldilocks zone and is one of the lucky few places on the planet that is relatively habitable, though it keeps itself going only by a ruthless rejection of refugees, a staunch coastal defense, and a move to a totalitarian regime. Even so, despite the government’s propaganda, people can sense that things seem to be fal... Read More

Thoughtful Thursday: Valentine’s Day 2020

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. The advertisements and end caps of stores are pushing the usual gifts: chocolates, flowers, and the like.

But let’s think out of the box a bit here.

If you could pop over for a few hours to any of the fantasy/sci-fi worlds out there, what would you pick up for your significant other to express your love? We’re talking an expression of romance here, not something they can sell off so as to live in comfort their whole life.

Would you give them a bouquet of elanor or niphredil? Go a little bigger with a mithril bracelet? Or go all the way in with a Silmaril? What would be the gift that shows the true extent of your love?

One random commenter will choose a book from our stacks. Read More

The Dark Fantastic: A thoughtful addition to race analysis in fantasy

The Dark Fantastic by Ebony Elizabeth Thomas

In The Dark Fantastic (2019), Ebony Elizabeth Thomas offers up a thoughtful and important exploration of race in fantasy, looking in particular at four case studies: Rue in The Hunger Games, Gwen in Merlin, Bonnie in The Vampire Diaries, and Harry Potter. As should happen with books like these, reading it forces you to see things in a different light that you’ve long viewed and that have grown familiar.

Thomas defines her terminology early on as “the role that racial difference plays in our fantastically storied imaginations,” and then distinguishes it from Afrofuturism or the Black Fantastic in its recogni... Read More

Remembrance: Flaws overcome by vivid depictions of time and place

Remembrance by Rita Woods

Remembrance (2020) is a solid historical fantasy by Rita Woods that doesn’t quite meet its potential but is still well worth a read thanks to several strong characterizations and some vividly immersive historical scenes.

Woods moves us back and forth between three time periods. In modern times, Gaelle is a young woman who moved to the U.S. after the earthquake in Haiti, which is also where she lost her grandmother. Gaelle works at a home for the aged, where she is the primary tender of a mysterious Jane Doe woman who seemingly has no family or friends and neither speaks nor moves. This changes one day, though, when Gaelle finds a strange old man in the room who tells her, upon being asked to leave, that the woman’s name is Winter.

Another storyline takes place in the mid-1800s, and follows a trio of house slaves in New Orleans: Margot (the main character of this plotlin... Read More

Batman and Ethics: An informative take on Batman’s ethics (or lack of them)

Batman and Ethics by Mark D. White

Batman and Ethics (2019) by Mark D. White does just what it purports to do, and does so clearly, smoothly, and with a surfeit of supporting examples to bolster his claims. I had a few issues, but honestly, complaints seem a bit churlish with a book that achieves its goal so successfully.

In a brief, broad introduction, White explains why he’s decided to limit discussion to the comics version of Batman, as well as why he further narrows his scope to the time period of the early 1970s through 2011. The body of the book he divides into two broad sections, one titled “What Batman Tried to Do — and How He Might Do It Better,” and “What Batman is Willing to Do — and What He Isn’t.” The first focuses mostly on the system of ethics known as utilitarianism, the second on another system — deontology. The former advocates the greatest good, the ma... Read More

The Hidden Girl and Other Stories: A solid collection with a few standouts

The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu

I was a huge fan of Ken Liu’s first collection of short stories, The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, giving it a five out of five and placing on my “best of” list that year. His newest collection, The Hidden Girl and Other Stories (2020), unfortunately didn’t hit the high notes as consistently as the first, though there are still several gems in the group.

Many of the stories are set in a time leading up to or following the singularity, where humans upload their consciousness to the cloud and become disembodied. Three are a direct mini-series following the same characters in linear fashion and the others change characters and shift in time (someti... Read More

A Queen in Hiding: A solid intro to a new series

A Queen in Hiding by Sarah Kozloff

I’ve, unfortunately, been on a run lately in my genre reading of books that are perfectly, well, “serviceable.” They (mostly) keep my interest throughout, offer up some pleasurable reading for a few hours, but never rise above that “solidly decent” level. Nothing startles in the way of plot, language, structure, character. It’s smooth sailing across placid waters with no storms or reefs (i.e. bad writing), which is “nice.” But, also, no dolphins arcing out of the water, no humpback sightings, no sunken ships to explore, etc. In other words, nothing to stir the mind or soul, nothing to grab you and not let go, nothing memorable enough to have you proselytize the book to all your friends. And that’s pretty much where Sarah Kozloff’s debut novel A Queen in Hiding (2020) sits — a good book that will please most, even if it doesn’t excite them.
... Read More

The Bard’s Blade: A solid enough first book that left me wanting more bite

The Bard’s Blade by Brian D. Anderson

The Bard’s Blade (2020), by Brian D. Anderson, is the first book of THE SORCERER’S SONG trilogy and as such it’s a perfectly serviceable fantasy, a comfortingly welcome invitation into a new series. If that seems a bit like damning with faint praise, that’s because while the novel goes down easily and smoothly, I can’t say there’s anything that makes it particularly stand out. I’d say it’s the vanilla flavor at a Ben and Jerry’s, save that vanilla is actually my favorite flavor. Maybe it’s a peanut-butter sandwich. It satisfies, it fills that need in your stomach, assuages your hunger, but you won’t be grabbing someone in the grocery store while they’re shopping and telling them, “You really have to try a peanut-butter sandwich!”

The story opens in Vyla... Read More

Shatter City: A fast-paced follow-up to Impostors

Shatter City by Scott Westerfeld

Shatter City (2019) is the sequel to Scott Westerfeld’s Impostors, a set of four novels extending his UGLIES series by picking up roughly a decade after that earlier quartet ended. As I noted in my review of Impostors, this series doesn’t quite match the high quality of those earlier books, and seems aimed at a somewhat younger audience, but still retains enough of Westerfeld’s plotting strengths to make for an often exhilarating read. Fair warning, some inevitable spoilers for book one ahead.

The first point to note is you’ll definitely want to have read Impostors before picking up Shatter City. I won... Read More

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