We Love This!

Here are some things we really love. We hope you’ll love them, too!

Walking to Aldebaran: Literary musings in an alien cavern of horrors

Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky

I never know what to expect from Adrian Tchaikovsky, but he’s always entertaining. Walking to Aldebaran (2019) is unlike anything I’ve read from Tchaikovsky to date, a powerful, literary SF novella with an edgy, dark sense of humor and a strain of horror that gradually intensifies until its shocking ending.

British astronaut Gary Rendell is part of an international space team sent from Earth to explore a moon-sized, alien-made object ― officially called the Artefact, unofficially called the Frog God because of its appearance in photos ― that a space probe has found lurking in the outer reaches of our solar system. Through a series of events that are gradually unfolded to the reader, Rendell is now wandering alone inside the cold, endless, crypt-like tunnels i... Read More

Small Spaces: A delicious autumn read

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

I fell in love with Small Spaces (2018) from the first paragraph. Before I even realized this was the same Katherine Arden whose adult fiction I’ve been meaning to read for years, and before I got caught up in the richly drawn characters and the spooky plot, I was smitten by this:
October in East Evansburg, and the last warm sun of the year slanted red through the sugar maples. Olivia Adler sat nearest the big window in Mr. Easton’s math class, trying, catlike, to fit her entire body into a patch of light. She wished she were on the other side of the glass. You don’t waste October sunshine. Soon the old autumn sun would bed down in cloud blankets, and there would be weeks of gray rain before it finally decided to snow. But Mr. Easton was teaching fractions and had no sympathy for Ol... Read More

The Ten Thousand Doors of January: Go read it now

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

The Ten Thousand Doors of January (2019), by Alix E. Harrow, is one of the most beautiful books you will read in 2019. It may be one of the most beautiful books you’ll read in your lifetime. When I say it’s beautiful, I don’t simply mean the prose and the imagery, although those both are gorgeous. I mean that this is a beautiful story. The journey of January Scaller, set against the USA’s Long Gilded Age, is a story of plausible hope, of learning to use your own power, and a story of the power of stories.

January Scaller is an “in-between” girl, the ward of the wealthy, powerful and mysterious Cornelius Locke. She is always conscious of her tenuous status.
Sometimes I felt like an item in Mr. Locke’s collection labeled "January Scaller... Read More

Gods of Jade and Shadow: Romantic fantasy set in 1920s Mexico

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Casiopeia Tun is the poor relation of the Leyva family, put to work as a servant to her grandfather, aunts, uncles, and cousins. It’s established early, though, that she’s not one to take easily to subservience. Sure, she’ll probably do what she’s told — eventually — but it won’t be with a smile. She cherishes a few modest dreams of the things she’d see and do if she could only escape the family home and the dusty little town of Uukumil. When the family leaves her out of an outing as punishment, she sees her chance and opens the forbidden chest in her grandfather’s room. She’s hoping for a few coins to fund her escape to Mérida. Instead, she awakens Hun-Kamé, a Mayan death god.

It turns out that he was imprisoned there by his jealous brother, Vucub-Kamé, in order to usurp the throne of the underw... Read More

The Last Light of the Sun: Another lovely historical fantasy by GGK

Reposting to include Bill's new review.

The Last Light of the Sun by Guy Gavriel Kay

The Last Light of the Sun is another of Guy Gavriel Kay’s lovely historical fantasies. This one blends Norse, Celtic, and Anglo-Saxon histories with a bit of faerie mythos. We follow a few main characters from each of these societies as they interact with each other to shape their land and destinies. As usual in a Guy Gavriel Kay novel, we see the struggles from each perspective, so there’s no single “hero” or “villain.” We understand what motivates each of the characters and their culture and we can admire their strengths and recognize their weaknesses. In the end, we want everyone to win but, of course, that’s not what happens.

I thought the cast of The Last Light of the Sun was not as accessible or compelling as that of Tigana Read More

Shadowhouse Fall: Still magical, still powerful, still wonderful

Reposting to include Kelly's new review.

Shadowhouse Fall by Daniel José Older

Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper was one of the best books of 2015 — not “best YA books” but best books of all categories. It featured an engaging, authentic female hero, an original magical system, mundane issues as well as magical ones, and a distinctive voice and sensibility. 2017’s sequel, Shadowhouse Fall, shows no second-book slump in this series.

Sierra Santiago is mastering her skill as a shadowshaper, an ability that melds spirit contact with art, and adjusting to her new role as the Lucera, but things are not calm or quiet in her neighborhood. A powerful rival group called the Sorrows still purs... Read More

State Tectonics: A surprising and triumphant ending

State Tectonics by Malka Older

State Tectonics (2018) is the third book in Malka Older’s CENTENAL CYCLE trilogy. The series is a Hugo finalist in the Best Series category. It did not end the way I expected it to!

(This review may contain spoilers for the previous books.)

At the end of Null States, the second book, the handful of main characters had uncovered a plot, not just against the micro-democracies, but against Information, the worldwide information-provision system itself. Now, in the third book, three or four baffling threads converge into a tangle of motivations, betrayals and, ultimately, revelations.

Since the events in Null States Read More

The Violent Century: A thoughtful exploration of heroes and history

The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar

Thanks to his two most recent novels, Central Station and Unholy Land, Lavie Tidhar has quickly become one of my favorite contemporary novelists, and so when I was given the opportunity to read a re-release of his earlier book, The Violent Century (2013), I leapt right on it. Clearly, the last two books were not evidence of some sudden leap upward in achievement, as The Violent Century stands side by side in craft, structure, and thoughtfulness.

The novel posits an alternate history where in the early 1930s, a “probability wave” (promulgated accidentally by a German scientist) c... Read More

Exhalation: The very best kind of speculative fiction

Exhalation: Stories by Ted Chiang

Ted Chiang’s stories are the very best kind of speculative fiction. They’re modern, sophisticated, intelligent, clever, thoughtful, and entertaining. Best of all, they’re full of futuristic science and explorations of the personal, sociological, and ethical considerations we may be facing as science and technology advance.

Most of the stories in Exhalation have seen print before; only two are new. Here are my thoughts on each:

"The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" — Originally published in 2007 by Subterranean Press, winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards. A man in Baghdad visits a merchant who shows him a gate that allows his customers to go backward and forward in time. Both amusing and poignant, and told in a series of nested vignettes, this thoughtful novel... Read More

Shadowshaper: Five-star characters with five-star prose

Reposting to include Kelly's new review.

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

I’ve commented before that I give very few five-star reviews. Usually, I expect a book to somehow change my thinking, or how I see the world, in order to rate it a five-star book. As I sat down to write this review I was going to say something like, “While that didn’t happen with Shadowshaper, by Daniel José Older, I still…” and then I thought more about it, and decided that Shadowshaper (2015) has changed how I think about the world, mostly because of the time I spent with the main character, Sierra Santiago, who is a hero, an artist and a genuine girl.

As far at the plot goes (and it’s a fast-paced one) in many ways Sierra is a classic Chosen One, a trope that som... Read More

The Little Prince: A thoughtful and timeless classic

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Nominated this year for a Best Novella within the 1944 Retrospective Hugo Awards category, The Little Prince is a slight, yet powerfully thought-provoking work. Originally published by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in 1943, who filled each page of his story with charming watercolor illustrations, it tells the story of a pilot who has crash-landed in the Sahara Desert with “only enough drinking water for eight days” and who, upon his very first night, is visited by an extraordinary child who asks for a drawing of a sheep.

As the pilot says, “In the face of an overpowering mystery, you don’t dare disobey,” and after many failed attempts he manages to come up with a drawing which pleases the child, whom he calls “the little prince.” As they come to know one another, the pilot learns about the little prince’s home planet and the other... Read More

The Brightest Fell: “Magic can be reversed. Trauma isn’t that simple.”

The Brightest Fell by Seanan McGuire

After two “monster of the week” episodes, The Brightest Fell (2017) brings us back to the secrets that were revealed in The Winter Long, surrounding Amandine, Simon, Eira Rosynhwyr — and Toby’s long-lost sister, August. But first, Seanan McGuire draws us in, as she did in Once Broken Faith, with a heartwarming scene of comic relief. This time, it’s Toby’s bachelorette party. The. Luideag. Sings. Karaoke. You don’t want to miss this.

The cozy mood is not to last, though, because Toby’s estranged mother Amandine shows up afterward. She wants Toby to find August. No... Read More

Poe Dameron Vol. 5: The Spark and the Fire: A rewarding wrap-up to a great series

Star Wars: Poe Dameron Vol. 5: The Spark and the Fire by Charles Soule & Angel Unzueta

They certainly left the best for last, as this final instalment in the POE DAMERON series involves exciting new adventures, several important “gap fillers”, seriously beautiful artwork, and some much-needed development and introspection from our titular character.

Whereas the previous volumes have all taken place before The Force Awakens, this one jumps ahead to the aftermath of the battle of Crait, in which Poe, Finn and Rey (and BB-8 of course) are finally able to catch up on the Millennium Falcon. This means that until Episode IX comes out in December 2019, this comic contains the most recent chronological events in the saga.

It’s great to see our three leads finally interact with one another, and their warmth and witty banter makes me wonder (not for the first time) why on earth they had to ... Read More

The Raven Tower: Intelligent, thoughtful, and visceral

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie

The Raven Tower (2019) begins, as so many fantasy tales do, with a young man returning home to claim the powerful title and honor which are his birthright. Upon his arrival, he discovers that his father has gone missing and is presumed dead, while his uncle has taken the seat of power for himself with the promise that it will be given over to the young man when the time is deemed to be right (with the implicit understanding that the uncle will never do so). The young man then sets about proving his uncle’s perfidy and setting the countryside back to its normal state of affairs with the help of a few trusted friends. Despite much hardship and sacrifice, the young man succeeds in usurping the usurper, titles and honor are bestowed upon him, and everyone lives happily ever after, right? Right.

Except Read More

Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Volume 3 & Volume 4

The Buying of Lot 37: Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Volume 3

Who’s a Good Boy?: Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Volume 4

by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor

So many spiders. So, so many spiders.

Night Vale, as a town, is not for the faint of heart, especially if one has a problem with arachnids. (“Throat spiders” is a common ailment, the very idea of which makes me want to vomit until I die.) It’s also infested with deer, many of whom have extra eyes and heads, and thanks to the largesse of Night Vale Community College alumna Mrs. Sylvia Wickersham, thousands of English Angora rabbits. Because a Whispering Forest that ensnares victims with compliments, a tiny civilization underneath the bowling alley and arcade complex, and hordes of bloodied warriors wandering through the desert wastes are super-fun and scary, but not quite scary enough to make me check and double-... Read More

Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Volume 1 & Volume 2

Mostly Void, Partially Stars: Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Volume 1
The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe: Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Volume 2


by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor

Perhaps you’re familiar with the Welcome to Night Vale podcast, created in 2012 by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, which takes the form of twice-monthly, roughly-30-minute dispatches from the community radio station in a small, exceptionally weird and yet utterly normal desert town. If you haven’t listened to the podcast, now in its seventh year, perhaps you’ve read the stand-alone novels Welcome to Night Vale or It Devo... Read More

A Brightness Long Ago: Beautifully evocative and moving

A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay

I confess that I always dread just a little bit reviewing a new Guy Gavriel Kay novel. Not because I’m concerned it won’t be any good; Kay writing a bad book would have to be on anyone’s list of Impending Signs of the Apocalypse. But because what makes his books not just good but stand-out good is so damn ineffable.

Granted, not solely so. I can easily toss off a host of tangible, well-crafted elements, all the usual suspects: fascinatingly rich characters, compelling plots, immersive world-building, etc. But the single best reason I can think of for reading a Guy Gavriel Kay book is the supreme elegance and grace of his writing. Which also happens to be the single worst recommendation for reading a Guy Gavriel Kay book. “Elegance and grace?” the potential reader says. ... Read More

Miranda in Milan: Such stuff as twenty-first century dreams are made of

Miranda in Milan by Katharine Duckett

I’ll be perfectly honest: The Tempest is not my favorite of William Shakespeare’s plays. It’s well-written, it has some fantastically quotable lines, and it contains insightful commentary about men and the pursuit of power (through various means, and of various types). But The Tempest only has one active female character, the sorcerer Prospero’s teenage daughter Miranda, and her functions are to (1) receive only the information her father deems appropriate, (2) remain obedient and chaste so that her virginity can be the strongest bargaining chip possible, and (3) be symbolically wedded to the king of Italy’s son in order to facilitate her exiled father’s return to Milan and, thus, to his status as Duke. She’s a means to an end; nothing more. There’s a lot of great stuff in The Tempest! It’s just, you know, that bit’s not great.

As modern authors t... Read More

The Black God’s Drums: We really hope this begins a series

The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark

In an alternative history, magical steampunk version of New Orleans, in 1884 the city is still influenced by the aftermath of the Civil War, which ended in a division of the Union and Confederate states. New Orleans is a pocket of neutrality, one of the few territories not aligned with either the North or South. The city is run by a council made up of ex-slaves, mulattoes and white businesspeople; British, French and Haitian airships patrol the skies to keep the peace.

Thirteen-year old-Jacqueline is a bright, quick street girl and pickpocket who goes by the name of Creeper (for her skill at climbing walls). Within Creeper lives part of the spirit of Oya, the orisha or goddess of storms, life and death, lending Creeper power over wind and sharing premonitions and visions with her. And her latest vision is a doozy: an immense, horrific skull moon hanging over New Orleans, snuffing out the... Read More

The Winter of the Witch: Beautiful and powerful

Reposting to include Marion's new review:

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

Medieval Russia comes to life in Katherine Arden’s WINTERNIGHT TRILOGY, which began in Lesnaya Zemlya, a small village in northern Rus’ in The Bear and the Nightingale and continued in The Girl in the Tower. Vasilisa (Vasya) is a young woman with the rare ability to see and speak with the natural spirits or chyerti of the hearth, stables, and lands and waters of Rus’. Vasya has gained the attention and respect of the winter-king Read More

Unholy Land: A twisty, mentally challenging story

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Unholy Land by Lavie Tidhar

I absolutely loved Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station (and was not alone in that), and while his newest, Unholy Land (2018), didn’t blow me away quite to the same extent, it kept me on the couch in “don’t talk to me I’m reading” and “uh-huh, uh-huh, ya don’t say, uh-huh” mode all afternoon while my family just rolled their eyes and gave up, as they know to do when all the signs of being engrossed in a great book are manifest (luckily, they live those moments as well, so it’s a fond eyeroll... )

The novel is set in an alternate universe setting where the Jewish homeland of Palestina appears not in the Middle Eas... Read More

The City in the Middle of the Night: On my “Best of 2019” list

The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders

The second novel by Charlie Jane Anders, The City in the Middle of the Night (2019), surprised me. Having read her fantastical debut novel All the Birds in the Sky, and her sociological science fiction novella Rock Manning Goes for Broke, I was not expecting a story set on an exo-planet and a society vastly distant from Earth in time and space. While the story has the modern sensibility Anders personifies, the challenges the human settlers face hark back in some ways to the golden age of SF. It’s a thoughtful, heartful take o... Read More

Sourdough: Celebrates the appreciation of excellent food

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Sourdough by Robin Sloan

I really loved Robin Sloan’s Sourdough (2017), but not everyone will. You probably will if you’re a foodie (I am), an introvert (I am), and a bit geeky (I am). If you love sourdough bread (I do) and magical realism (I do), you’ve just got to read Sourdough. And you must try the audio version. It’s amazing.

Lois is new to San Francisco. She moved from Michigan, where she grew up, and she’s starting a job as a programmer of robotic arms at a tech company where everyone works so hard that they basically have no other life. Most of them just eat a nutritive slurry rather than bothering to plan, shop, and prepare meals.

Most nights Lois orders her dinner ... Read More

Welcome to Night Vale: Buckle up — it’s going to be a weird ride

Reposting to include Skye's new review.

Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor

If you enjoy horror in all its many forms, or just plain Weird Stuff, odds are good that you’ve at least heard of (if not been sucked into the fandom vortex of) the highly-acclaimed podcast Welcome to Night Vale. Its creators, Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, have spent the last five years expanding upon a central premise — there’s a desert town in the southwestern region of the United States, where all manner of strange things happen and time doesn’t really exist — through twice-monthly podcast episodes. The success of the podcast has led to a number of other projects, including this novel, Welcome to Night Vale (2015), which is a perfect entry point for anyone wondering what... Read More

How Long ‘Til Black Future Month?: A phenomenal display of imagination and talent

How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin

N.K. Jemisin continues to delight and amaze with How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? (2018), a powerful and thoughtful collection of twenty-two stories. Some stories metaphorically shook me by the collar and demanded whether I’m doing enough to better the world around me, some surprised me with a combination of sweetness and self-assurance, and some just flat-out brought me to tears.

Jemisin’s introduction is particularly useful, as she looks back over her authorial journey (so far) and provides tidbits about which stories collected here are interrelated, or perhaps were written in response to other authors’ works, or are connected to her own work, or are “’proof of concept’ stories,” as she puts it, “to test-drive potential novel worlds.” It’s a... Read More