3.5

Click on stars to FIND REVIEWS BY RATING:
Recommended:
Not Recommended:

Sky Without Stars: Do you hear the people sing?

Sky Without Stars by Jessica Brody & Joanne Rendell

Street-smart Chatine Renard spends her days scrounging for trinkets, or sometimes liberating them from their owners directly, and committing other crimes while dressed as a boy so that she can’t be forced to sell her blood, a nominally-legal vocation which might bring good money in the short-term but is sure to kill her within a few years. Alouette Taureau is a sweet, dangerously naïve girl brought up in near-seclusion under the watchful eyes of her kind father and the Sisters who hide belowground, protecting valuable books and other information smuggled from Earth during the Last Days, when nations fled their home planet and made their way to the twelve planets within the System Divine.

Then there’s Marcellus Bonnefaçon, who has a promising career as an officer ahead of him, regardless of his father’s banishment to the prison-moon of Bastille and his childhood govern... Read More

The Wolf in the Whale: A bit of a mixed bag

The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna Max Brodsky

Jordanna Max Brodsky switches gears ever-so-slightly in her novel The Wolf in the Whale (2019), continuing her examination of old-gods-in-diaspora from her OLYMOUS BOUND series while taking a step back in time — a little over a thousand years from present day — and exploring the story of an Inuit shaman who finds herself at the nexus point between her people and the first band of Vikings to set foot on North American soil. It’s an interesting and well-researched story, and though the slow pace might put off some readers, I encourage them to stick it out to the finish.

Omat is born into complicated circumstances: according to tradition, her late father’s soul will be passed into her newborn body, along with his name, and their tiny Inuit c... Read More

Imposters: A semi-successful return to the world of UGLIES

Impostors by Scott Westerfeld

Scott Westerfeld has long been one of the best YA authors going, with multiple stories well worth a read, including the UGLIES, LEVIATHAN, and MIDNIGHTERS series, all of which are top-notch. And his SUCCESSION sci-fi series, more adult in nature, is absolutely great. So a new title from him is big news, made even bigger when we learn it’s a return to his beloved UGLIES trilogy. Honestly, it’s hard to live up to that sort of expectation, and unfortunately, I have to say title one in the new series, Impostors (2018), doesn’t do so. That’s not to say it’s a bad book; it just doesn’t reach the same level as Westerfeld’s other work. And even with that said, I’m pretty sure younger readers, its target a... Read More

Traitor’s Blade: Full of adventure and derring-do

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Traitor’s Blade by Sebastien de Castell

Traitor’s Blade is the first installment in Sebastien de Castell’s GREATCOATS series and is an interesting blend of genres — like The Three Musketeers with classic fantasy. At the core it is about a young man whose heart is broken and who has found meaning in defending ideals that are greater than himself.

An oft-used, but nonetheless compelling storyline in fantasy is the abuse of power by the nobility. Whether it’s something as simple as overtaxing and overworking the lower classes or some of the more heinous examples where the Nobles rape, murder and torture with seeming impunity, the concept remains that power unchecked corrupts. Falcio Val Mond has had his fill of exactly this sort of thing. As a young husband his experiences have riven his soul and created in him a desire for justice that... Read More

Joust: Quite entertaining despite the problems

Joust by Mercedes Lackey

Vetch’s family used to own land in Alta, but when they were invaded and occupied by Tia, Vetch’s father was killed and the rest of his family became serfs. Vetch, who was taken away from his mother and sisters, is now the servant of a horrible fat and lazy man who’s pretty much the worst master you can imagine. (All of Mercedes Lackey’s bad guys are really really bad!)

When a Tian dragon jouster named Ari notices Vetch’s plight, he rescues him and takes him as his own servant. Now Vetch is a dragon boy, feeding and cleaning up after his new master’s dragon. In the process, he learns everything there is to know about caring for dragons and his new circumstances are comfortable and far superior to his previous enslavement. However, Vetch is treated like a serf by the other dragon boys and, worse, he fee... Read More

Alice Payne Arrives: The problems with time travel

Alice Payne Arrives by Kate Heartfield

Alice Payne arrives on the scene in this 2018 Nebula-nominated novella, and it looks like she’s setting up for a longer but welcome stay. Alice Payne is a half-black, thirty-two-year-old woman living in 1788 England in a mansion called Fleance Hall, with her father and a handful of servants; she’s also a closeted queer woman in a secret relationship with her companion, an inventor named Jane Hodgson. Alice and her father have fallen into financial straits, and her father, who is suffering from severe PTSD as a result of fighting in the American Revolution, is unable to support them financially. So Alice has taken up highway robbery, in the guise of a highwayman called the Holy Ghost, choosing as her victims men who prey on women. (Though I found it improbable, apparently there are enough of these men traveling near Fleance Hall to allow Alice to support her household with her ill-gotten gains.)
Read More

The Hidden World: The plot really thickens

The Hidden World by Melinda Snodgrass

Stop right there and don’t read past this paragraph if you haven’t yet read The High Ground and In Evil Times, the first two books in Melinda Snodgrass’s IMPERIALS saga. The Hidden World (2018) is book three (of five total, I think) and my review can’t help but contain spoilers for the previous books.

Fourteen years have passed since we left Tracy and Mercedes at the end of In Evil Times. Tracy, framed, disgraced, and now out of the service, has changed his name and turned smuggler. He captains a ship with several aliens on his crew... Read More

Ghosted (Vol. 3): Death Wish: Another Great Tale of the Occult

Ghosted (Vol. 3): Death Wish by Joshua Williamson (writer), Goran Sudzuka (artist), and Miroslav Mrva (colorist)

In Ghosted (vol. 3): Death Wish, Jackson Winters, our master thief, is in prison yet again (And if you haven’t read volume 1 yet, start there and read my review of Ghosted (vol. 1): Haunted House). When we last saw Jackson, he had just escaped a haunted temple only to be greeted by his old friend King. King was a member of his gang of thieves who, in volume 1, tried to steal a ghost from a haunted mansion. But at the end of volume 2, it seemed that King had switched sides because he shows up with the Feds to arrest Jackson for escaping prison (back in the first issue of the series when Anderson broke him out to work for her boss). Anderson, who died the first story arc, is still haunting Jackson, our mastermind thief, but it seems as if he’s being haunted by something even worse... Read More

In the Vanisher’s Palace: A fascinating world

In the Vanisher’s Palace by Aliette de Bodard

Yên, who studied to be a healer, has not lived up to expectations. Both she and her mother have failed to heal the child of one of their country’s leaders. In this land, useless people are eliminated, but Yên’s mother saves her daughter’s life by selling her off to a dragon who can shapeshift into a woman. The dragon has two rambunctious children who need to be educated, so Yen is assigned this duty in the dragon’s bizarre palace. As she lives with the dragon and her kids, she learns more about her world, herself, and the dragon who has enslaved her. Some of the things she learns will change her life forever.

Aliette de Bodard has described In the Vanisher’s Palace Read More

Ghosted (Vol. 2): Books of the Dead: Another Trip Into the Land of the Occult

Ghosted (Vol. 2): Books of the Dead by Joshua Williamson (writer), Goran Sudzuka (artist), and Miroslav Mrva (colorist)

In Joshua Williamson’s Ghosted (vol. 2): Books of the Dead, Jackson T. Winters is given yet another offer he can’t refuse, and again it’s got him dealing in ghosts and the possessed (And if you haven’t read volume 1 yet, start there and read my review of Ghosted (vol. 1): Haunted House). When we last saw Jackson, he was on his island in a little paradise all his own. But his paradise is next to a resort, and with people coming and going, it was only a matter of time before someone from his past life spotted him. This man sees Jackson, picks up his cell, and calls someone Jackson once wronged. Jackson shows up just as the phone call ends and kills the man; unfortunately, the call has been made, and he has only a short time to pack up and get out of there. As you might e... Read More

River of Blue Fire: A great story that’s just too long

River of Blue Fire by Tad Williams

River of Blue Fire (1998) is the second book in Tad WilliamsOVERLAND quartet. You absolutely must read the first book, City of Golden Shadow, first.

Our group of heroes (Renie, Xabbu, Orlando, Fredericks, Martine, Tb4, Kwan-Le) have entered Otherland and are searching for Paul Jonas at Mr. Sellar’s request. They hope to discover what the Grail Brotherhood is up to and why some kids (including Renie’s little brother Stephen, and online pals Orlando and Fredericks) are in comas. What is the Grail Brotherhood’s plans for these kids?

But soon the heroes are accidentally separated into two groups and they are struggling just to stay alive as ... Read More

Gingerbread: So lovely, so inventive, so bizarre

Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi

When we first meet Harriet Lee and her daughter Perdita, they seem fairly normal. Perdita is a London teenager who attends an upperclass school while her mother awkwardly tries to fit in with the other mothers on the parents’ advisory committee by bringing them tins of her famous gingerbread.

But those mothers do not properly appreciate the gingerbread gifts, perhaps because they are unaware of the existence of the country that Harriet Lee and her gingerbread came from. It’s called Druhástrana. It’s not on our maps and it’s not easy to get in or out of. But Harriet knows how and when her daughter Perdita tries to visit her mother’s homeland, she nearly dies. As she recovers, Harriet finally takes the time to tell Perdita all about her strange childhood in Druhástrana and how she eventually arrived in London.

There are a few things I absolutely adored about Read More

Shadowblack: A solid, entertaining second book in the SPELLSLINGER series

Shadowblack by Sebastien de Castell

“You think you’ve had it bad? I’ve been on the run for ten years. Bounty hunters, hextrackers war mages…” He shook his head. “You steal one too many sacred books and all of sudden you’re an outcast.”

Shadowblack (2018), by Sebastien de Castell, picks up shortly after Book One, Spellslinger. Kellen, the exiled son of a Jan’Tep prince, is traveling with an Argosi named Ferius Parfax and a squirrel cat named Reichis, who will not admit that he is actually Kellen’s familiar. There is a bounty on Kellen’s head now, placed there by his people, the Jan’Tep, because Kellen showed symptoms of a demonic infestation called shadowblack. Ultimately, the demoni... Read More

Spellslinger: A YA novel full of magic, cons, and card tricks

Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell

Spellslinger sounded right up my street — a young adult novel full of magic, cons, card tricks and a plucky underdog. If it didn’t live up to my high hopes I blame the misleading words emblazoned on the back cover that read “Magic Is A Con” — an enticing promise that isn’t delivered because, well, magic turns out not to be a con. Nevertheless, while it wasn’t the story I expected, Spellslinger is an enjoyable romp in its own way.

Kellen and his classmates are all set to complete the trials that will secure their future as “Jan’tep” — a magical people who wield five pillars of magic — breath, iron, silk, blood, ember and sand. If they fail the trials they will be forced to live out their lives as “Sha’tep”, an under-class destined to serve through manual labour. The only problem is, Kellen has lost his magic. Howev... Read More

City of Golden Shadow: A fascinating virtual world

City of Golden Shadow by Tad Williams

City of Golden Shadow (1996) is the first book in Tad WilliamsOTHERLAND quartet. The complicated plot, which is set in the near future, follows a large cast of characters all over the world who have some connection to a huge but secret virtual reality simulation that eventually becomes known as Otherland. The main characters are:

Renie Sulaweyo, a college instructor in Africa, is teaching Xabbu, a bushman from a remote African tribe, how to use the net. When Renie’s little brother Stephen, who spends a lot of time on the net, suddenly becomes comatose and the doctors can’t figure out what’s going on, Renie uses her research skills to try to discover what ails him and Xabbu offers to help.
Orlando Gardiner, a brittle boy who is dying from pr... Read More

A Brother’s Price: An amusing “what-if” story

A Brother’s Price by Wen Spencer

In a frontier land on some other world, a close-knit family of outlaws lives in the same sort of manner that you’d expect such a family to live in the American Wild West. They’re tough, they wear cowboy hats and ride horses, they speak coarsely, they curse and brawl, they shoot and hunt, they drink whiskey and smoke cigars, they protect their spouses... Oh, and I’m talking about how the women behave.

In A Brother’s Price (2005), Wen Spencer twists this classic Wild West tale by switching the genders. Because, in this world, male babies are rarely born alive, there is a gender role reversal. Women have the power, they rule, they do the dangerous jobs, and they compete for men (a limited resource). They choose, own, shelter and protect their men. Men are kept in the ... Read More

SCHOOL BUS OF HORRORS: Short, scary stories for young readers

SCHOOL BUS OF HORRORS by Michael Dahl, with illustrations by Euan Cook

If you know a young reader who likes scary stories but who isn’t quite up to tackling something the length of, say, a GOOSEBUMPS book, give Michael Dahl and Euan Cook’s SCHOOL BUS OF HORRORS series a shot. Four new titles are being released at once: Night Shift, Auto Body Parts, Ooze Control, and Shocks! (2019). The series is recommended for readers in the 9-to-13-year-old-range, though I would guess that’s more due to the thematic content than complexity of language; the stories are engaging though told very simply, and seem perfectly matched for “hi-lo readers” or “ Read More

Xander and the Rainbow-Barfing Unicorns: Technicolor gross-out fun

XANDER AND THE RAINBOW-BARFING UNICORNS: Fairies Hate Ponies & Who Turned Off the Colors? by Matthew K. Manning & Joey Ellis

XANDER AND THE RAINBOW-BARFING UNICORNS is a sweet, silly children’s series written by Matthew K. Manning and illustrated by Joey Ellis; the two most recent entries are Fairies Hate Ponies (2019) and Who Turned Off the Colors? (2019). The series is marketed toward kids in the 8-to-10-year-old range, though some of that is going to be dependent upon the reading proficiency and intestinal fortitude of the kid in question. Be prepared for plenty of gross-out humor and copious amounts of technicolor vomit issued by unicorns afflicted with a zombie virus.

Fortunately, the unicorns themselves appear to be caught in a state of semi-decay, with various body p... Read More

Midworld: Interesting biological science fiction

Midworld by Alan Dean Foster

On a faraway planet with a dense jungle ecosystem, a human colony ship accidentally landed generations ago. The planet killed all but a few hardy survivors and their offspring evolved, along with the jungle, into a symbiotic pseudo-human race.

A man named Born is one of the descendants of those few humans. In his early manhood, he is eager to prove himself a mighty hunter and a desirable mate for a girl he has a crush on. Among his people, who live in the trees, he’s somewhat of an oddity, unconventional and curious, daring to traverse areas of the jungle that are higher or lower than his people are usually willing to go.

On one of his risky excursions, Born discovers an alien (human) spaceship inhabited by people who have recently landed on the newly discovered planet, strayed from their base, and become lost in the hostile jungle. Being adventurous and brave, and wanting to impress t... Read More

A Voice in the Night: Definitely for established fans

A Voice in the Night by Jack McDevitt

Jack McDevitt is one of the numerous authors whose work I know because my dad said, “Hey, read this!” In McDevitt’s case, the “this” was The Engines of God. Having thus been introduced to recurring protagonist Priscilla Hutchins, I read several others of McDevitt’s novels and I’ve always enjoyed them. So I was interested to pick up this book of short stories to see how McDevitt does them.

Overall, I think I prefer McDevitt’s work at novel length; I think it’s because he does well with accumulation of detail over the course of a story. But A Voice in the Night (2018) does have several stories that I enjoyed.

The collection doesn’t have one unifying theme, but there are several themes that appear more than once. There ... Read More

Gates of Stone: Worldbuilding and characters make up for the well-trod plot

Gates of Stone by Angus Macallan

Angus Macallan turns in a solid if somewhat overly familiar fantasy story in Gates of Stone (2019), the first in a series entitled LORD OF THE ISLANDS. What saves the book from sinking in that familiarity, though, are some interesting characters and a less-familiar setting/mythos.

The novel follows four characters in mostly separated story lines, though they do cross paths now and then before the stories converge. In one, sixteen-year-old Princess Katerina, robbed of what she thinks was her rightful place as heir to the Empire of the Ice-Bear (think ancient Russia) and married off to a Southron prince, kills her new husband (not really a spoiler, as it’s both telegraphed and over with in the first few pages) and sets in motion plans to achieve her own power, plans that center on the islands of Laut Besar (think ancient Indonesia) and its... Read More

First Lensman: Book 2 of one of the greatest space operas

First Lensman by E. E. “Doc” Smith

Although a fairly direct sequel to Triplanetary, which is now almost universally regarded as the opening salvo in E. E. “Doc” Smith’s famed LENSMAN series, Book 2, perhaps misleadingly titled First Lensman, was actually the last of the six books comprising this most famous of all Golden Age space operas to be written. As I mentioned in my review of Book 1, Smith had originally written Books 3 through 6 over the 13-year period 1934 - ’47, but then felt that something in the order of a prequel for his remarkably complex story line was needed. Thus, Triplanetary first appeared in 1948, with First Lensman eventually showing up i... Read More

They Shall Have Stars: The technical details of how we’ll achieve this dream

They Shall Have Stars by James Blish

The optimism of Modernism expressed itself in a variety of fashions. Silver Age science fiction perhaps the grandest of them all, the infinite potential of technology was a playground which hundreds of writers rushed to frolic on. Jaunts to Mars, telekinetic communication, robot servants — a universe of ideas was the genre’s oyster. Space flight perhaps the most utilized trope, there was no shortage of schemes and inspiration about how mankind could achieve the stars. Approaching in realist mode (chronologically, that is), James Blish and his CITIES IN FLIGHT sequence posited that discoveries in mathematics and solar system exploration would be the ticket to the galaxy. After publishing a series of short stories wherein mankind’s urban environments were ‘launched’ into space, he realized the larger potential... Read More

The Initiation: Classic YA paranormal romance

Reposting to include Kelly's new review.

The Initiation by L.J. Smith

Cassie Blake is distraught when her mother decides to uproot to the small town of New Salem in order to take care of a grandmother who Cassie had never even met before. But that is only the start of her problems. Starting a new school, trying to make new friends — and discovering that some of the people she would most like to befriend are all part of some secret Club that Cassie is not permitted to join. Then a girl dies and Cassie is finally initiated into the Secret Circle, learning that magic is more than just a folktale.

These days the YA market is flooded with paranormal activity — witches amongst them. But in 1992 when LJ Smith first wrote The Secret Circle trilogy it was something fresh and new — and should be reviewed with that in mind. LJ Smith was producing w... Read More

Empress: So much action!

Empress by Mark Millar

Empress is another one of Mark Millar’s big-action comics. It’s about Earth’s first rulers, long ago, when apparently they had technology beyond anything we could imagine. The Empress, Emporia, lives with a terrible husband, King Morax, who is all-powerful and likes to express that power by killing his people for the smallest possible infraction. This story is about her escape from the misery of his company as she goes on the run with her family across the galaxy.

The story is fairly simple and lacks the complexity of Millar’s best work. Emporia’s bodyguard has agreed to help her escape along with her three kids, one of whom is a small baby. The action often involves monsters and other dangers, and the baby, Puck, frequently is thrown from his mother’s, brother’s, or sister’s arms as we watch what we assume will be his immediate death. At one point, he is thrown towa... Read More