SFF Reviews

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Age of Ash: The first in yet another must-read series

Age of Ash by Daniel Abraham

I have to say, my timing of reading Daniel Abraham’s newest novel, Age of Ash (2022), couldn’t have been better, coming as it did right after I finished the last EXPANSE novel, the series he co-wrote with Ty Franck (as James S.A. Corey). After all, while THE EXPANSE has been my favorite sci-fi series for the past number of years, Abraham was also responsible for two of my favorite fantasy series: THE LONG PRICE QUARTET and Read More

Resident Alien (Vol. 2): The Suicide Blonde: Another murder mystery for an alien detective

Resident Alien (Vol. 2): The Suicide Blonde By Peter Hogan (writer) and Steve Parkhouse (artist)

In Resident Alien: The Suicide Blonde, the story opens with Asta (the nurse) and her father spirit walking in a dream-state, looking in on our resident alien, Dr. Harry Vanderspeigle. Asta’s father warns her not to let Harry know that she knows he is an alien. They do not want to alarm Harry and cause him to run. Asta’s father says that there are people looking for him, and that if he runs, it will call unnecessary attention to Harry.

We also get flashbacks to three years ago when Harry first landed, and we see the government agency go into action trying to track him down after finding his spaceship. They have one image of Harry looking like an alien, an image taken from an ATM at a local mall not far from where Harry crashed. We also get scenes of Harry trying to escape the area three years ago. We follow... Read More

Dark and Magical Places: The Neuroscience of Navigation: You won’t get lost

Dark and Magical Places: The Neuroscience of Navigation by Christopher Kemp

Once, driving with a friend from Rochester to New Orleans, I woke for my turn at the wheel to have my friend excitedly tell me we’d been making great time, as we were “less than an hour from Philadelphia.” Considering when we had left home, it was indeed “great time,” I told him. Unfortunately, I also had to tell him that Philadelphia was not even close to on the way to New Orleans, and that he’d been speeding in the wrong direction for the last few hours. Similarly, on another trip down south, I woke up to my wife very proudly informing me we were just coming into the city limits. Which would have been wonderful news, save for the minor detail that the city was Louisville, and we were going to Lexington.

I learned two things from these (and multiple other similar situations either driving or hiking). One, don’t ever... Read More

The Human Chord: “What’s in a name?”

The Human Chord by Algernon Blackwood

In his masterful collection of 1912 entitled Pan’s Garden, British author Algernon Blackwood clearly displayed his belief in the sentience and awareness of such facets of Nature as trees, snow, gardens, the wind, subterranean fires, the seas and the deserts, and of their transformative powers for those with the ability to discern them. One facet of Nature not dealt with in Pan’s Garden, however, was sound itself, and now that I have finally experienced Blackwood’s novel of two years earlier, The Human Chord, I believe I know why. The subject of sound, you see, and of its ability to transfigure and create, lies at the very heart of this novel, and is dealt with in a... Read More

Agents of SHIELD, Season Four (Giveaway)

No WWW links today.

The Fourth Season Takes Us in Different Directions

(Warning, spoilers for Season Four and previous seasons.)

When Agents of SHIELD’s fourth season opens, the team has defeated their fungal villain Hive, but at great cost. Phil Coulson is no longer the director. He’s an agent again, working with Mac, monitoring Inhumans. Daisy, heart-broken by the death of her boyfriend Lincoln, has left the team to track down and stop the hate group militia called the Watchdogs. (Technically, if you include double-agent Grant Ward, Daisy lost two boyfriends to Hive, so, ouch.) Daisy’s angst is heightened by her guilt for the things she did while possessed by Hive herself.

Daisy, or Quake, has been declared a public enemy by the goverment. Jemma Simmons has been promoted, reporting to the new director. This position requires frequent lie-detector tests, so Agent May, Coulson and Mac have to keep her out of the... Read More

Goliath: Sets a high bar for 2022

Goliath by Tochi Onyebuchi 

Goliath (2022), by Tochi Onyebuchi, is the first 2022 book I've read and already I'm assuming it's going to be on my Best of the Year list next December. That said, while I'm obviously strongly recommending it, thanks to its structure and style, it won't be to everyone's taste (What book is?), though I certainly hope everyone gives it a shot.

The novel is set in a near-future, post-pandemic, post-natural disaster, post-man-made disaster, post-apocalyptic Earth (New Haven in particular) that has been abandoned by those with the economic and racial privilege to take up residency in the Colonies — large orbital habitats free from the environmental devastation below, a planet poisoned by radiation and pollution and wracked by climate change. A planet where so... Read More

Cytonic: A detour into an unknown dimension

Cytonic by Brandon Sanderson

Humanity has been on the losing end of a centuries-long war with the Superiority, the main organization of galactic races, for decades, trapped on a desolate planet called Detritus and fighting an ongoing war using outdated, small spacecraft to keep from being exterminated. In the second book in this series, Starsight, Spensa Nightshade, a young spaceship pilot who first distinguished herself in Skyward, found a way to leave Detritus and travel to Starsight, a massive alien space station where the galactic government is located. Spensa joined the alien space pilot training program at Starsight while spying on the Superiority to try to find a way for humanity to better fight their captors. She also discovered the hyperjumping capabilities ... Read More

The Hidden Palace: Double the golems and jinnis

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

The Hidden Palace by Helene Wecker

In The Hidden Palace (2021) Helene Wecker returns to the richly-imagined world of The Golem and the Jinni, fin de siècle New York City, focusing on the Jewish and Syrian immigrant communities. Chava, an intelligent golem created by an evil-hearted genius, was set free by the unexpected death of her intended husband and master, left with the ability to hear the thoughts of all humans instead of just her master. The jinni Ahmad is released from the bottle that imprisoned him, but he is bound to tangible human form with no discernable way to remove the curse. Despite their opposite natures of earth and fire, golem and jinni are drawn together in a world where neither fits in, and both are hiding their true natures from t... Read More

Twice Magic: A strong follow-up to the first story

Twice Magic by Cressida Cowell

The second book in Cressida Cowell's WIZARDS OF ONCE series does everything a good sequel should: expand the world, develop the characters, and deepen the story. As we discovered in The Wizards of Once, Ancient Britain is inhabited by two distinct races: the Wizards, who live among the magical creatures of the forest, and the Warriors, who are armed with iron weapons, the only metal that can repel magic.

In the first book, we met Xar and Wish, two young people who've grown up on each side of this conflict. Xar is the rather arrogant and vainglorious youngest son of the King Wizard, Encanzo, while Wish is the more introspective and sweet-natured daughter of Queen Sychorax, leader of the Warr... Read More

Pan’s Garden: A stunning collection from “The Ghost Man”

Pan’s Garden by Algernon Blackwood

By the time the renowned British writer Algernon Blackwood released his first collection of short stories, The Empty House, in 1906, he was already 37 years old and had led a life as full of adventure and incident as anyone you might possibly name. He had already worked as a dairy farmer and hotel operator in Canada, gone prospecting for gold in Alaska, been a bartender, and worked as a NYC reporter for The Evening Sun, among other things; occupations that would go to make good material for his 1923 autobiography Episodes Before Thirty. As the new century got under way, Blackwood, long interested in Buddhism, philosophy and the supernatural, joined several occult societies, including The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. His love of nature compelled him... Read More

Scarlet: A totally fresh take on Red Riding Hood

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

Scarlet (2013) is the second novel in Marissa Meyer’s LUNAR CHRONICLES. You’ll want to read Cinder first. There will be some spoilers for that novel in this review.

In Cinder we met the titular cyborg, an orphan who lives with her hateful stepmother and two stepsisters in New Beijing. Cinder is the best mechanic in town, which is how she meets the young and handsome Prince Kai. He needs his personal robot fixed because, unbeknownst to Cinder, it may contain information about the whereabouts of Princess Selene, the rightful ruler of Luna, the human colony on the moon. Nobody knows if Princess Selene is alive but, if she is, Kai may be able to avoid a marria... Read More

The Sentence: A haunted bookshop is a window into America

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich

“sentence (n)1. A grammatical unit comprising a word or a group of words that is separate from any other grammatical construction, and usually consists of at least one subject with its predicate and contains a finite verb or verb phrase; for example, ‘The door is open’ and ‘Go!’ are sentences.”

I didn’t know what to expect from Louise Erdrich’s metafictional ghost story The Sentence (2021) and she still managed to surprise me. Starting with the title, Erdrich addresses a number of issues in this story, told mostly by Tookie, who works at a bookstore in Minneapolis, owned by a well-known writer named Louise. Tookie is being haunted by Flora, a (dead) customer.

Tookie served ten years of a different kind of sentence, a sixty-year sentence for m... Read More

The Amber Crown: Strong main-character work, but weak plot

The Amber Crown by Jacey Bedford

The Amber Crown (2022), by Jacey Bedford, contains several elements that tend to have me leaning away rather than into a book, including rape, implied rape, threatened rape, and some torture/horrid executions. I mention them upfront for the convenience of those who can tell already the book isn’t for them and so will stop reading the review now (I should note they aren’t egregiously gratuitous, mined for trauma [as characterization] rather than titillation; the book is far from torture porn). For those for whom those are not dealbreakers, Bedford delivers a solid work set against an interesting quasi-historical background but with a plot I found far less engaging than the characters. In the end, I can’t say the book’s strengths fully outweighed its weaknesses or my distaste for some of those aforementioned scenes, though one’s mileage will vary on that.

The book seems to ... Read More

Resident Alien (Vol. 1): Welcome to Earth!: A murder mystery with an alien investigator

Resident Alien (Vol. 1): Welcome to Earth! By Peter Hogan (writer) and Steve Parkhouse (artist)

In Resident Alien, Dr. Harry Vanderspeigle is a ship-wrecked alien in a small town, acting as a general practitioner. He appears as a human to adults — only small children can see his alien appearance. So, he goes undetected. He’s a matter-of-fact, down-to-earth kind of guy, and this first volume (of six volumes so far) by Peter Hogan tells us the story of how he came to be a doctor in the first place.

When our story opens, he’s been living for two years in isolation in a cabin on the outskirts of town. He’s out on the lake in front of the cabin fishing one day when the police come to request his help, since they’ve heard he’s a doctor. When we first see him, we, as readers, can see him as an alien, but the police see only a man in a boat. The police chief, Mike, calls to the alien. When he gets to ... Read More

Last Dragon Standing: The epic finale

Last Dragon Standing by Rachel Aaron

Last Dragon Standing (2018) is the epic finale of Rachel Aaron’s self-published HEARTSTRIKERS series. I’ve been listening to the audio edition of the HEARTSTRIKERS novels and can recommend them without reservation to readers interested in this fun and heart-warming saga. I listened to them with my 19-year-old daughter and we loved the narration by Vikas Adam. If you haven’t read the previous four books, Nice Dragons Finish Last, One Good Dragon Deserves Another, Read More

Tales of the Greatcoats Vol. 1: A fond return to a warmly remembered world

Tales of the Greatcoats Volume 1 by Sebastian De Castell

“So I’m only in one of these nine Greatcoats stories?” Brasti asked, pausing his work.

“Yes,” De Castell replied. “Though to—”

“But Kest gets two?”

“The man knows talent when he sees it,” Kest said, skimming through the pages of Tales of the Greatcoats. “I especially like how you have me win a duel without actually fighting the duel. And … Hold on, I’m in only two?”

Brasti snorted. “The man knows talent.” He sighed. “I suppose Falcio is in all of ‘em.”

Falcio looked up from staring at the newborn daughter he cradled in his arms. “And deservedly so, given that—”

“Actually,” De Castell interrupted gently. “Falcio is also just... Read More

Hawkeye: Consistently enjoyable

Hawkeye on Disney+

Not as ambitious in terms of creative storytelling or theme as WandaVision or as wildly fun as Loki or What If?, Hawkeye is equally good in a different way, though it’s not without its flaws and the ending had its own set of issues. Despite those problems, it may be the most consistently enjoyable of the Marvel shows to date. Spoilers to follow.

Hawkeye tells a much smaller, much more grounded story than its counterparts, with no superpowers, time traveling, or universe hopping, and with relatively low-key stakes focused more on a personal level and with a limited geography versus the world or universe-threatening stakes of other shows. In that way it’s a nice change of pace, catch-your-breath kind of show. Not everything needs to be world-shaking after all; it gets exhausting. After Loki and What If? Read More

Where the Drowned Girls Go: A weaker installment in an up and down series for me

Where the Drowned Girls Go by Seanan McGuire

I’ve been very hit and miss on Seanan McGuire’s WAYWARD CHILDREN series, with my rating on books ranging from two stars to four. Though the results have been more miss than hit overall, since the books’ novella lengths mean they aren’t a big time investment, I thought I’d give the latest, Where the Drowned Girls Go (2022), a shot in hopes it would be closer to the four than the two. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.

While the book can, somewhat, be read independently of the others (I’d say McGuire offers up just enough exposition so someone new to the series wouldn’t be completely at sea), it will be more effective had one read the earlier installments. That being the case, I’m going to assume you’ve done so.

Unlike many of ... Read More

Leviathan Falls: Strong conclusion to one of the best sci-fi series in decades

Leviathan Falls by James S.A. Corey

THE EXPANSE has been my favorite science fiction series for many years now, so while I looked forward to Leviathan Falls (2021), the ninth and final book in the series, with eager anticipation, I’d be lying if I didn’t say it also came with a bit of pre-grieving. So maybe it was a bit of denial, combined with a hellish end-of-term, the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, and the general fk-you-ism of 2021 that had me completely miss the book’s release in late November. But after seeing a reference to its existence in the wild, I quickly rectified my oversight, and then, for various reasons, began reading it at about 4:30 in the morning. And, because it’s an EXPANSE book, didn’t put it down until I finished it. And yeah, it was as good a return and as bittersweet an ending as I’d assumed it would be. Sigh.

Honestly, from... Read More

A Dragon of a Different Color: Not the best, but an essential, installment

A Dragon of a Different Color by Rachel Aaron

Rachel Aaron’s HEARTSTRIKERS series continues with the fourth novel, A Dragon of a Different Color (2017). It’s really no use to start this story here – you should first read Nice Dragons Finish Last, One Good Dragon Deserves Another, and No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished. At this point in the story, it’s hard to avoid a few spoilers for the previous books, but I’ll do my best.

In the prologue of A Dragon of a Different Color, we finally learn the history of the Detroit Free Zone (t... Read More

Black Magic: Sandy’s Favorite Read of 2021

Black Magic by Marjorie Bowen

The British publishing firm Sphere Books had a really wonderful thing going for itself back in the 1970s: a series of 45 books, both fiction and nonfiction, curated by the hugely popular English supernatural novelist Dennis Wheatley, and titled Dennis Wheatley’s Library of the Occult. This reader had already experienced seven of these novels in the natural order of things, in other editions – titles such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), Read More

Christmas break!

We are on Christmas break with limited reviews/columns for the next several days.

Next week (on Thursday) we'll announce our favorite books of 2021 and we'll ask you about yours.

We wish you a Merry Christmas!
(And for those who don't celebrate Christmas, we wish you a lovely holiday season!)

We hope you'll have time to spend with some wonderful books.

Stay safe and healthy! Read More

Foundation: Season One: A mixed bag, but generally good

Foundation: Season One on Apple TV+

In my first review of Apple TV’s Foundation series, written after the first two shows, I said it wasn’t “great” TV (at least not yet) but ranged consistently between good and very good. Having just finished all ten episodes of season one, I’d broaden that range from “occasionally annoying to occasionally great.” In other words, it’s a mixed bag, which I suppose shouldn’t be much of a surprise for a series that mostly follows three plot strands, has multi-decade time jumps, and is itself based on a series of loosely connected short stories that were later retconned into a larger universal narrative. I’ll send you to my earlier review for the plot summation. Here, I’ll assume you know the basic plot. I will look at the three narrative strands separately, then consider the series as a whole. Some spoilers for various episodes t... Read More

Abbott: Elder gods and tough reporters in 1970s Detroit

Reposting to include Brad's new review.

Abbott by Saladin Ahmed & Sami Kivela

BOOM! Studios has released the trade edition of the first series of the period dark fantasy Abbott (2018), words by Saladin Ahmed and art by Sami Kivela. Set in 1972, the story follows Elena Abbott, a reporter for the Detroit Daily. Abbott may not be the paper’s only woman reporter, but she is probably its only Black reporter and definitely the only Black woman reporter. Currently, she is in trouble with the paper’s owners for her accurate expose of the police murder of a Black teenager. She is sent to cover the mutilation of a police horse. To further punish her for her stand against police lawlessness, the paper has taken away her photographer and given Abbott a camera. This is a status hit that her w... Read More

Roar of Sky: A solid conclusion to this magical alternate-history trilogy

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Roar of Sky by Beth Cato

Beth Cato concludes her BLOOD OF EARTH trilogy with Roar of Sky (2018), bringing the story of clandestine geomancer Ingrid Carmichael, which began in Breath of Earth and continued in Call of Fire, to an action-packed close. This review will contain some spoilers for events in previous books, so proceed with caution.

Badly wounded and permanently debilitated after her desperate fight in Seattle against Ambassador Blum, Ingrid and her friends Cy Jennings and Fenris Braun flee to Hawaii aboard the Palmetto Bug, a sma... Read More