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Stay Out of the Basement: Creepy but annoying

Stay Out of the Basement by R.L. Stine

One of my kids loves Halloween – she starts celebrating in September – and, since she wanted to read some horror for children during October, we listened to a few of R.L. Stine’s GOOSEBUMPS books together. Each is a standalone short novel with a pretty hefty scare factor.

Stay Out of the Basement (1992) is the second novel in the series (which contains dozens of stories) and there’s no reason to read the first one first. It’s 144 pages long in print format and just over 2 ½ hours long in the scholastic audio version we listened to which is narrated by Elizabeth Morton.

Margaret and Casey’s father is a botanist who’s been fired from his university for some reason the kids don’t know. But that has not stopped his research program. Though, now that he ... Read More

Spacecraft: Not exactly what it says on the tin

Spacecraft by Timothy Morton

I’m sure there is an audience for Timothy Morton’s Spacecraft (2021), one of the OBJECT LESSONS series titles. Unfortunately, I wasn’t it. I’m also thinking that based on the title, a number of people might find themselves in my position, a problem perhaps more of expectations than substance.

The OBJECT LESSONS, which I’ve generally been a big fan of, “start from a specific inspiration ... and from there develop original insights and novel lessons about the object in question.” And there lies the expectations problem because from the title, one would imagine the inspiration is, well, spacecraft. And at least at the start, it seems to be the case, as Morton offers up his youthful love of spacecrafts, his clear enduring enthusiasm, an insightful distinction between spaceships and space... Read More

Dreaming in Quantum and Other Stories: Didn’t do much for me

Dreaming in Quantum and Other Stories by Lynda Clark

It seems that putting The Rock Eaters by Brenda Peynado on my best of 2021 list and noting how it’s redeemed my faith in short story collections was a bad idea, as I’ve apparently jinxed myself with regard to said collections, being that I’m now 0 for 3 on them since then. The third “0-fer” is Dreaming in Quantum and Other Stories (2021) by Lynda Clark, which has its moments but left me disappointed overall.

Generally, the collection is a mix of fantastical genres, though how much so will depend on one’s subjective definitions of the seemingly infinite sub-genres thrown under that particular umbrella category, such as fantasy, magical realism, fairy tal... Read More

Victory on Janus: A weak ending

Victory on Janus by Andre Norton

Victory on Janus (1966) is the sequel to Andre Norton’s Judgment on Janus (1963). The two novels make up the JANUS duology (Baen, 2002) which has recently been published by Tantor Media as an audiobook (2021). Gabriel Vaughan, the narrator, gives an excellent performance.

In Judgment on Janus, we met Naill Renfro, who was an indentured servant on the frontier planet of Janus. After touching a forbidden “treasure,” he turned into one of the green-skinned people who used to live and thrive on Janus. This ancient race no longer exists, it seems, but humans who find the treasures become changelings who, like Naill, are equipped with some he... Read More

Eye of the Monster: Colonized crocs get revenge

Eye of the Monster by Andre Norton

Tantor Media has published an audio version of Baen’s The Game of Stars and Comets (2009), an omnibus that contains these four novels by Andre Norton: The Sioux Spaceman (1960), Eye of the Monster (1962), The X Factor (1965), and Voorloper (1980). Each of these short novels stands alone and they are all set in Norton's Council/Confederation universe. I’m reviewing them separately, because that’s what we like to do here, but it’s wonderful that they’re now available in these cost-effective omnibus editions.

Like The Sioux Spaceman... 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

The Bat Woman: A middling horror novel in a sloppy presentation

The Bat Woman by Cromwell Gibbons

As some of you may have discerned, my favorite type of reading matter these days has been the science fiction, fantasy and horror books from the period 1900 - 1950, and so I am always on the lookout for modern-day publishers issuing new editions of these often out-of-print works. Case in point: Bruin Books, from Eugene, Oregon, which, a few years back, made it possible for me to finally obtain a reasonably priced copy of Paul Bailey’s wonderful horror novel Deliver Me From Eva (1946). I was thus happy to read that Bruin has recently released a whole slew of horror works under its new Bruin Asylum label, and choosing at random, I selected the book in question, Cromwell GibbonsThe Bat Woman (193... Read More

Master of Poisons: A challenging book

Reposting to include Bill's new review.

Master of Poisons by Andrea Hairston

Master of Poisons (2020) by Andrea Hairston is an epic fantasy set in an African-inspired world that is facing environmental devastation. Fertile land is turning into poison desert, and void-storms are a constant threat.

Djola is called Master of Poisons because, when both men were young, he saved the Arkhysian Emperor with his knowledge of antidotes. He was rewarded with the title and a place on the Emperor’s council. Now, he thinks he might be able to save the land with a legendary spell, but he needs to find it first — and in the meantime, he recommends that everyone live more simply, to put less strain on the environment.

Human nature being what it is, this goes about as well as you might e... Read More

Sunset of the Gods: Same strengths and weaknesses as its predecessor

Sunset of the Gods by Steve White

Sunset of the Gods (2012) is the second novel in Steve White’s JASON THANOU (TEMPORAL REGULATORY AUTHORITY) series about time travelers who go back in time to study historical events. It would be helpful, but not necessary, to read the previous book, Blood of the Heroes, first.

This time Jason will accompany a couple of academics to witness the Battle of Marathon. There are a few historical debates about events that occurred while the Greeks were driving the Persians out of their country in 490 BC and the team hopes to settle these disputes. Both of them involve Pheidippides/Philippides, the runner who took news of the battle to Sparta. Legends suggest that he was confronted... Read More

The Tyrant Baru Cormorant: Really felt its length

The Tyrant Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

I’ll confess up front I’ve struggled mightily with Seth Dickinson’s series that started with The Traitor Baru Cormorant and continued with The Monster Baru Cormorant. I’ve found lots to admire in the first two books, especially intellectually, but I can’t say I actually much enjoyed them. So it was with some trepidation that I picked up book three, The Tyrant Baru Cormorant (2020). Unfortunately, it turned out to be my least favorite of the three, though again providing some meaty moments.

I’m not going to do much recapping or summarizing. You really need to have read books one and two before trying this one, and the... Read More

Woven in Moonlight: A tapestry with some loose threads

Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibañez

Woven in Moonlight (2020) is a lushly imagined YA fantasy based on Bolivian history and culture, and featuring a creative form of magic based on weaving. The plot is exciting, filled with twists and turns and betrayals. For me, though, I also found that it had some elements that distracted me from the story, and some others that made less sense when I thought about them later.

Ximena is a young girl who lost her family when the indigenous Llacsans rose up against the colonizing Illustrians.  The only survivor of the Illustrian royal family was Condesa Catalina. Ximena, who resembles the Condesa, was picked up off the streets and raised as a decoy for Catalina. Now everyone thinks she’s the Condesa, and when the Llacsan ruler Atoc demands the Condesa’s hand in marriage, it’s Ximena who must travel to his palace for the wedding. She’s hoping that she can find At... Read More

A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians: Left me wanting both more and less

A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians by H.G. Parry

H.G. Parry’s A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians (2020) is a sweeping fantasy novel that takes major events during the Age of Enlightenment — the French Revolution, the Haitian slave revolution, and the madness of King George — and overlays them with a skein of magic, investing the three major players with various powers: France’s Robespierre is a necromancer, Britain’s Prime Minister William Pitt is a mesmerist (among other things), and Toussaint Louverture is a weather mage (albeit a weak one, the focus in Haiti is really on a more powerful woman named Fina). The three, though, are actually dancing to the tune set by an immensely powerful and mysterious figure manipulating things to his own intended goal, which threatens ruin and destruction not seen for centuries. The concept has some potential, and occasionally that potential is m... Read More

The Iron Flower: Battling bigotry and oppression

The Iron Flower by Laurie Forest

When Laurie Forest’s debut YA fantasy novel The Black Witch was published in 2017, there was a massive explosion of outrage in the Twitterverse and elsewhere online. Accusations of various types of prejudice — racism (albeit based on fantasy races), homophobia, white saviorism, ableism, lookism and more — were hurled against it. In my opinion those charges were unfair and based on a superficial reading of the text, missing the fact that the main character’s prejudices were clearly being shown as unthinking bias and bigotry, and in fact she does very gradually change her thinking over the course of the book. Still, I’m sure it was stressful for the author, so my assumption going into this sequel was that Forest likel... Read More

The Last Human: I want to read Zack Jordan’s next book

The Last Human by Zack Jordan

This doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it’s almost soul-crushing. I adored the first 25% of Zack Jordan’s The Last Human. It was on its way to being my favorite book so far this year. It was imaginative, clever, exciting, funny, and warm. I loved it. Then, it took a turn, and I struggled to finish it.

The Last Human (2020) is about a girl named Sarya who is being raised by a huge sentient black widow spider. Sarya is a human, but she and her mother hide this fact from others. This is easy to do because nobody knows what a human looks like anymore. The race is supposedly extinct, which is a good thing. The rest of the universe (over 1.4 million different species in more than 1 billion star systems) is afraid of humans — they’re immature, uncivilized, and not very smart. If they knew Sarya was one, she’d be in a ... Read More

The Kingdom of Liars: Hold off to see how the sequel does

The Kingdom of Liars by Nick Martell

The Kingdom of Liars (2020) is a debut novel by Nick Martell and the beginning of his series THE LEGACY OF THE MERCENARY KING. As such, it shows some debut issues with character, plotting, and world-building, though it has an interesting mystery at its core.

There has “always been a Kingman in Hollow” goes the refrain, a member of the Kingman family who acts as a check on the king. But some years before the novel’s start, Michael’s father, David Kingman, killed the king’s youngest son. Following the Kingman Riots, Michael’s father was executed by the king as a traitor, his mother placed in any asylum thanks to dementia-like issues, and his family stripped of their status and taken in by a foster father. Since then his sister Gwen and brother Lyon have found minor places in society while Michael grew up conning Low Nobles for money. The novel opens w... Read More

Superman: Dawnbreaker: An inconsequential look at pre-caped Superman

Superman: Dawnbreaker by Matt de la Peña

In comparison with the other three books in the DC ICONS COLLECTION, I'm afraid I have to say that Superman's entry is not the best. As with the others, it explores the adolescence of a famous superhero before he or she donned a mask and cloak, and in this case, focuses on farm-boy Clark Kent realizing that strange things are happening in his rural hometown of Smallville.

Along with his best friend Lana Lang (reimagined for the first time as a would-be reporter) Clark gradually becomes aware of a sudden corporate interest in the farms of Smallville, and a spate of missing Mexican workers. The arrival of Lex Luthor and the two squabbling sons of philanthropist Montgomery Mankins doesn't feel like a coincidence, and for the first time Clark begins to utilize his abilities in the attempt to ... Read More

Keeper of the Winds: Not for me, but perhaps for some teen readers

Keeper of the Winds by Jenna Solitaire & Russell Davis

The cover of my ARC of Keeper of the Winds (2020) shows it co-authored by Jenna Solitaire and Russell Davis. This edition is a reimagining and slight updating of a book originally published in 2006. Its author was Jenna Solitaire. Davis come up with the conceit of an imaginary author, narrating her own adventures as she discovers that she is the Guardian of a strange set of magical spirit boards, at least four of which control the elements. Now, fourteen years later, with a new publisher, Davis is revisiting the DAUGHTER OF DESTINY series and substantially rewriting them, although he says in his afterword that this one faces the fewest plot changes of the original quartet.

The series is marketed to YA, with a 19-year-old protagonist, as she discovers her supernatural abilities and interacts with t... 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

Strange Exit: Muddled plot and mostly flat characterization

Strange Exit by Parker Peevyhouse

Decades after the Earth was destroyed by nuclear war and its aftermath, a group of teens aboard an orbiting spaceship meant as a refuge are stuck in a VR stasis while their ship falls apart around them. Only if all them “wake up” and exit the VR simulation will the ship allow them to leave. One girl, 17-year-old Lake, has made it her mission to return again and again into the sim, despite the danger of getting stuck in there, to wake those still “living” there. She’s joined by her younger sister Willow in the form of a sim “figment” (her sister is lost in real life) and a young boy, Taren, whom she recently awakened, as they race against time to save the teens and the ship.

Such is the premise of Parker Peevyhouse’s 2020 YA novel Strange Exit. The premise is in... Read More

Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water: We are interested in what Kaftan does next

Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water by Vylar Kaftan

Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water is a 2019 novella by Vylar Kaftan. The story opens with two characters, Bee, our narrator, and Chela, in jeopardy in a very unusual setting, and takes us places we did not expect.

Bee is trapped in a unique and horrifying prison: a cave complex on a planet far from Earth. She has one companion, Chela, and they have banded together to brave the dangers of the caves: the risk of drowning, narrow tunnels that could trap and suffocate a prisoner, deep shafts and large predatory insects. They have never seen another prisoner. The wardens leave boxes of goods with a guiding beacon for them to find. The boxes contain food and other necessary supplies, and sometimes a whimsical item like a postcard. It’s often a race to get to the boxes before the insects find them, and the boxes, their arbitrary placement and the str... Read More

Children of the Night: Not rewarding enough

Children of the Night by Mercedes Lackey

Children of the Night (1990) is the second novel in Mercedes Lackey’s DIANA TREGARDE trilogy, following Burning Water. Each of the novels can stand alone, so you don’t need to read Burning Water first. In fact, it could be argued that this one is a better starting place because it’s set earlier in Diana’s life and we learn more about her in this novel. I should mention that though this series is a trilogy, there are also several short stories about Diana that can be found in magazines or collections.

Diana Tregarde reluctantly writes insipid romance novels (but not enough to make a living at it) and, since she's a witch and a G... Read More

Knight of the Silver Circle: An improvement, but still left me wanting

Knight of the Silver Circle by Duncan M. Hamilton

I gave a “didn’t recommend” to Duncan M. Hamilton’s Dragonslayer, noting that while it had some good pacing and a smooth, easy flow to it, that the story and characters were both a bit overly familiar and flat. Despite my rating though, when the sequel, Knight of the Silver Circle (2019) appeared, I picked it up, figuring it would be a pretty quick read and somewhat curious as to whether there had been any improvement. The good news is the answer was yes, while the less good news is many of the same issues from book one are still in place. Note there’ll be some unavoidable spoilers for book one to follow.

Knight of the Silver Circle ... Read More

The Future of Another Timeline: Interesting, but ultimately didn’t satisfy me

The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz

The Future of Another Timeline (2019) was a miss for me, which surprised me given how much I enjoy this writer. Many people on Amazon give it high ratings, so, as we say, your mileage may vary.

There are five-time machines embedded in the earth’s crust in Annalee Newitz’s 2019 novel. These objects, growing out of prehistoric rock, may be machines, or sentient entities, or some kind of strange natural occurrence, but they react to certain rhythmic sounds by sending a person back in time … and allowing them to return to their present.

The Machines are awesome.

The book follows two characters, Beth in a 1992 timeline that isn’t quite ours, and Tess from a 2022 that is upstream from Beth. Tess is an approved time traveler, who, usi... Read More

Last Ones Left Alive: Bleak and painful

Last Ones Left Alive by Sarah Davis-Goff

Orpen is a young woman who lives with her mother and Maeve, her mother’s partner, on an island off the coast of Ireland. As she is growing up, as far as Orpen knows, they are the only humans left alive. Orpen wants to go to the mainland to see if she can find any other people, and to search for the legendary female paramilitary force that is rumored to be fighting the skrake, vicious zombie-like creatures that hunt and kill humans. Her mother and Maeve warn her against this, but finally Orpen finds the opportunity to set out on her quest. She will need all of the survival and fighting skills that her two mothers taught her.

As Orpen journeys through a bleak and desolate (but sometimes beautiful) landscape, she uses flashbacks to very gradually enlighten us about the world and why she began her quest. We also gradually become aware of the horrible origins of the skrake. We witness Orpen’... Read More

Randomize: Dazzling science doesn’t make up for a mundane plot

Randomize by Andy Weir

Nick Chen is an IT guy on a mission: when quantum computers become available to consumers, he tries to convince the managers at the Babylon Hotel and Casino where he works to shut down their keno lounge, knowing that quantum computers can quickly crack the random-number generators of the keno game system. When he fails to persuade them, he uses his override passwords to shut down the keno game, which quickly gets the attention of Edwin Rutledge, the head of the casino. Eventually convinced by Chen’s arguments, Rutledge authorizes Chen to buy the casino its own quantum computer for $300,000 (“We fight quantum with quantum”).

A couple of days later, a new QuanaTech quantum computer is delivered and installed by a salesman, Chen sets up airtight security systems around it, and all is now well with the Babylon keno game … or, perhaps not. It turns out that the QuanaTech salesman is married to a brilliant... Read More