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The Green Man of Graypec: Kastrove convertible

The Green Man of Graypec by Festus Pragnell

In his famous short story of 1858 entitled “The Diamond Lens,” Irish-American author Fitz-James O’Brien gave his readers a tale of a scientist who invents a new type of microscope and with it discovers a woman living in a droplet of water. This fascinating premise of humanoid life existing in a microscopic realm was later amplified by NYC-born author Ray Cummings, whose 1919 novella “The Girl in the Golden Atom” told of a chemist who’d discovered a beautiful female living in the subatomic world of his mother’s wedding ring (!), and later invented a miniaturization drug that enabled him to pay this woman a visit. Cummings’ novella was such a success that he came out with a sequel the following year, “People of the Golden Atom”; the two novellas would later be fixed up and combined to form the 1922 novel The Girl in the Golden Atom, which, like O’Brien’s ... Read More

Among Thieves: A fun, light read

Among Thieves by M.J. Kuhn


Among Thieves (2021), by M.J. Kuhn, is a sort of two-tier book for me. On the one hand, it’s a fast-paced heist novel that speeds along amiably, easily, and with some humor. On the other hand, it’s somewhat of a paint-by-number heist novel that doesn’t really add anything new to the genre and skimps a bit on characterization and world-building. If it’s your first experience with this type of story, or you’re a younger reader, and/or someone who prefers plot-driven rather than character-driven stories, then it’s probably in the 3.5-4.0-star range. If you’ve read similar works, though, or look for more substance and originality in your characters, it’s more likely a 3.0 or, if you’re grumpy that day, a 2.5.

Ryia Cautella, aka the Butcher of Carrowwick... Read More

My Heart is a Chainsaw: Jones nails the slasher-film tone perfectly

My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones

There is so much to like in Stephen Graham JonesMy Heart is a Chainsaw (2021): a can’t-help-but-root-for-her main character, a prom-worthy bucketload of slasher-film references, a wry and sometimes bitingly funny narrative voice, so many red herrings the reader’s gonna need a bigger boat, deftly handled themes exploring race, gentrification, class, parenting (familial and communal), and trauma, and a climax that contains more blood than you can hold in a bank of elevators. So much to like, in fact, that my only real criticism is that there’s too much here, leading to a book that despite its many positives unfortunately begins to feel it has, like Jason or Michael, overstayed its welcome.

Jade (real name Jennifer, but don’t ever call her that... Read More

The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring: Rose Rita in the spotlight

The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring by John Bellairs

The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring (1976) is the third novel in John BellairsLEWIS BARNAVELT series for kids. Each is a stand-alone horror mystery. It’s not necessary to read them in order but it’d be ideal, if you can, to start with the first book, The House with a Clock in Its Walls, because that’s the one in which we watch Lewis, recently orphaned, come to live in the house of his uncle, a jovial man who’s a bit of a magician. In the second book, The Figure in the Shadows, you’ll meet Rose Rita, a tomboy who’s Lewis’... Read More

The Desert Prince: The next generation of THE DEMON CYCLE

The Desert Prince by Peter V. Brett

The Desert Prince is the newest installment in Peter V. Brett’s fantasy universe where humans have been battling demons for ages. The prior series (THE DEMON CYCLE) ended mostly in seeming victory for the good guys (the humans), but as is often the case in these sorts of stories, victory only lasts until the next trilogy. This new series picks up about fifteen years later, and while some characters return from the prior series, the focus here is on their children as they battle with an old demonic evil risen anew, humans who can be just as monstrous, the strictures of a too-rigid society, and their own inner conflicts.

The two first-person POV protagonists are Olive Jardir and Darin Bales, children respectively of Ahman Jardir and Arlen Bales (“The Deliverer”), the two larg... Read More

Fury of a Demon: Enjoyable, engaging, and entertaining (but…)

Fury of a Demon by Brian Naslund

I admitted back when I reviewed Brian Naslund’s Blood of an Exile that I had resisted the book sitting on my shelf and picked it up somewhat grudgingly, expecting yet “another fantasy about a roguish-yet-likable gritty swordsman and his band of gritty companions battling the odds to save their gritty world.” Which, as I noted then, wasn’t so far off in terms of plot, but which in more important ways didn’t come near being accurate, thanks to Naslund’s sharply executed characterization and world-building, an ecological theme that added appreciated depth, and a wonderfully cheeky style, traits that all continued on into the sequel S... Read More

Sea Siege: An unusual story for Norton

Sea Siege by Andre Norton

In the mid-20th century, Griffith lives in the West Indies with his father, a famous scientist who studies marine biology. Griffith, who helps his father with his research, thinks the work is pretty boring. He hopes to go back to America soon to attend the Air Force Academy.

Griff suddenly becomes more interested in his father’s work when something in the sea starts attacking ships near the island he lives on. Some people think it’s a dupee, others think it’s a Russian submarine. When a large radioactive sea creature washes up on shore, the octopi begin acting weird, and the American Navy arrives to build a facility they aren’t allowed to talk about, the islanders become worried. Not only are they concerned about the environmental effects on the reef, but they are also nervous about their island being caught in the middle of a Cold War that seems t... Read More

The House with a Clock in Its Walls: Lewis is an appealing hero

The House with a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs

Lewis Barnavelt is a chubby middle schooler whose parents recently died in a car accident. He has just arrived in a new town at the house (mansion, actually) of an uncle he hardly knows. Uncle Jonathan is eccentric, as is his neighbor and best friend, Mrs. Zimmerman, a middle-aged widow who loves the color purple.

As Lewis begins to adjust to a new living situation, new school, and new neighborhood kids, he gradually becomes aware that there’s something weird about Uncle Jonathan and his house. It turns out that Uncle Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman aren’t just eccentric – they are magicians. Uncle Jonathan’s main skill is to create benign entertaining illusions. Mrs. Zimmerman might be more powerful, but it’s not yet clear what exactly these powers might be.

The mansion used to be inhabited by an evil magician. That guy’s now dead, but he left a clock tic... Read More

Star Born: One of Norton’s more exciting adventures

Star Born by Andre Norton

Andre Norton’s Star Born was originally published in 1957. In 2013 it was combined with the related prequel The Stars are Ours and released as Baen’s Star Flight omnibus. Now Tantor Media has published Star Flight in audio format with excellent narration by Ryan Burke. You don’t need to read The Stars are Ours before reading Star Born, but it adds some nice context and, if you purchase the cost-effective omnibus edition (I recommend the audio version!), it kind of makes sense to do so.

In the prequel Read More

The Rookery: A mixed bag, but enjoyable

The Rookery by Deborah Hewitt

The Rookery (2021) is Deborah Hewitt’s sequel to her debut novel, The Nightjar, which I described in my review as having many of the issues one expects in a debut novel but that also left the reader eager to see what she did next based on her “imaginative content and writing style.” The sequel has its own issues but does improve on its predecessor. Some inevitable spoilers for book one to follow.

“The Rookery” itself is an alternate near-copy of 1930s London, “built as a sanctuary for the Vaki, a magical race of people” fleeing persecution in Finland at the time of the Crusades. The four original “master builders” each had their own magical specialty (water, building and s... Read More

The Kingdoms: Beautiful prose, complex characterization, some plotting issues

The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley

If Natasha Pulley’s latest novel, The Kingdoms (2021), were a movie script, the elevator pitch might have been “Master and Commander meets The Final Countdown” (look it up, kids). Part time-travel story, part love story (several actually), part Patrick O’Brian story, it curves and recurves through beauty and brutality (more of the latter than the former), time and space, trauma, and rescue (more of the former than the latter), as it delights, horrifies, and frustrates. I loved the first half to two-thirds, felt it went off the rails a bit for some time, then was happy to see it get back on track in time to nail the ending. Which is why I’m recommending it, despite its issues.

The book opens, appropriately enough, with a sentence about memory followed by a... Read More

The Stars are Ours: A fine SF adventure

The Stars are Ours by Andre Norton

Tantor Media has been publishing the omnibus editions of Andre Norton’s science-fiction adventures in audiobook format. The omnibus (originally published by Baen) called Star Flight contains the novels The Stars are Ours and Star Born (the PAX/ASTRA duology). Both novels are set in the same universe (ours, actually) but they stand alone.

The prologue of The Stars are Ours, originally published in 1954, is a big infodump which details a frightening future history of the world in which we basically destroy ourselves with extreme nationalism, a nuclear war, a Cold War, terrorism, a propaganda-spewing anti-science demagogue, and racism. This leads to the destruction of... Read More

The Queen’s Triumph: A satisfying conclusion to this romantic space opera

The Queen’s Triumph by Jessie Mihalik

The Queen’s Triumph (2020) is the third and final volume of Jessie Mihalik’s ROGUE QUEEN trilogy. I’ve enjoyed this series and recommend it to anyone looking for a short, fun, and sexy space opera with a strong female lead. Tantor Audio’s editions, narrated by Rachel Dulude, are pleasant and worth a try.

It’s been two weeks since the events of the last book, The Queen’s Advantage. Samara Rani, the young and inexperienced queen of her small country, has been growing into her role and has brought food and peace to her starving citizens. She’s quite capable on her own, and she’s got competent people around her, but it also really helps that she’s romantically involved with Valentin, the emperor of Kos.

When Samara agre... Read More

Rule of Wolves: A time of love and war in the Grishaverse

Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo

Rule of Wolves, the second half of Leigh Bardugo’s NIKOLAI DUOLOGY, picks up right where King of Scars left off and flings the reader headlong into the story. In other words, if it’s been a while since you read King of Scars, you’d be well advised to refamiliarize yourself at least a little with its plot; if you haven’t yet read that book, don’t start with this one.

The Russia-inspired country of Ravka and its king, Nikolai Lantsov, are beset by threats from both without and within. To the north, the wintry country of Fjerda, which rejects the magical Grisha as evil, is making preparations to invade, and Fjerda has a substantial edge i... Read More

The Stone From the Green Star: “Dark star crashes, pouring its light into ashes”

The Stone From the Green Star by Jack Williamson

As I mentioned recently in my review of Edmond Hamilton’s 1930 novel The Universe Wreckers, this Ohio-born author was just one of three writers who helped to popularize the genre now known as “space opera,” the other two being E.E. “Doc” Smith and Jack Williamson. I’d recently experienced Smith’s seminal six-book LENSMAN series, written between 1934 and ’48, but it had been a good number of years since I’d read anything by Williamson, one of my all-time fa... Read More

War of the Maps: A straightforward story in a fascinating world

War of the Maps by Paul McAuley

On an artificially created planet made up of numerous islands, a middle-aged man called the lucidor is stalking his prey. At first, we don’t know much about Remfrey He, the man the lucidor hunts, except that he’s an arrogant and corrupt man who, thanks to the lucidor’s detective work, was convicted and imprisoned years ago. But now he’s been set free because his skills will be helpful in fighting “the invasion,” a war with an unknown enemy which has brought genetically engineered monsters to the realm. These creatures are scary and deadly and Remfrey He says he can help the army defeat them.

But the lucidor believes that Remfrey He is the more terrible monster so, in protest, he has resigned from the department and set out to recapture his enemy. The lucidor’s former colleagues, though, have been ordered to stop the lucidor from interfering. Consequently, the lucidor is both hunter Read More

Legendborn: YMMV

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

Tracy Deonn’s Legendborn (2020), the first book in her LEGENDBORN CYCLE, wasn’t on my radar until I saw it on this year’s Locus Awards finalists list for Best Young Adult novel. I grabbed the audiobook and one of the YAs that lives in my house (Tali, my 18-year-old daughter) and we listened to Legendborn together as we worked a jigsaw puzzle. We agreed to give Legendborn a rating of 3.5 which is quite a bit lower than the book currently rates at both Amazon and GoodReads, so keep that in mind (YMMV). The bottom line is that we found the story entertaining and wanted to know what happened, but there were too many issues for us to fully endorse Legendborn.

Bree Matthews is a young black high school student who is smart and successful enough that she gets admitted, along with her bes... Read More

Star Daughter: A fairly strong debut

Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar

16-year-old Sheetal seems like any other normal Indian-American teenager. She’s close to her large family, has a best friend and a boyfriend, and she’s looking forward to going to college. What most people don’t know, though, is that her father, a famous astrophysicist, married a star.

Sheetal’s mother left years ago to ascend to her celestial court, and she told Sheetal never to let anybody suspect that she’s half star. To hide this fact, Sheetal dyes her silver hair black, but lately the hair dye has not been taking. Also, recently, as Sheetal approaches her 17th birthday, she has started to hear her mother’s starsong and doesn’t know what that means.

When Sheetal begins to realize she has some special powers and then accidentally causes her father to have a heart attack, she realizes she must visit her mother’s court to find a cure for him. When she arrives in the c... Read More

The Ikessar Falcon: Come for the fight scenes, stay for the dragons

The Ikessar Falcon by K.S. Villoso

The thing I loved the most about The Ikessar Falcon is the dragons. This second book in K.S. Villoso's CHRONICLES OF THE BITCH QUEEN, published in 2020, has plenty of action, world-building, political intrigue and romantic conflicts, but in this book, we learn much more about the dragons, their connection to the magical substance agan, and their role in the nation of Jin-Sayeng.

This review may contain spoilers for the first book, The Wolf of Oren-Yaro. By the way, Orbit, the publisher, has put the words “Chronicles of the Bitch Queen” right on the spine of the hardcopy books, so that’s what I’m calling it. Amazon chooses to call this series the “The Chronicles... Read More

Time Jumpers: A satisfactory ending to this MG fantasy series

Time Jumpers by Brandon Mull

Anyone who’s read the first four installments of Brandon Mull’s FIVE KINGDOMS series for middle graders will undoubtedly want to read the fifth and concluding volume, Time Jumpers (2018). We all want to know if Cole and his friends will be able to escape the Outskirts and return home, and we want to know if the kids’ families and friends will still remember them!

This time Cole is visiting the last of the five kingdoms: Creon. Here he will confront the high king (whose daughters he’s been rescuing as he travels around the five kingdoms), attempt to stop an evil shaper from destroying the world, and investigate a rumor suggesting there may be a way to get himself and his friends home and restore their parents’ memories.

In Time Jumper... Read More

In the Palace of Shadow and Joy: Two more loveable rogues

In the Palace of Shadow and Joy by D.J. Butler

D.J. Butler tries his hand at the two-loveable-rogues-for-hire story and mostly succeeds.

Our two loveable rogues are Indrajit Twang and Fix. Indrajit is the poet of his very small clan of people. He has come to the great city of Kish to find (he hopes) an apprentice who can learn the epic poem of his race so it can be passed down to the next generation. If he does not succeed, all of the history and culture of these few hundred people will be lost.

But meanwhile, he’s in debt and needs to earn some money. When he hires on with a risk insurance merchant, he meets his new partner Fix, a curious and educated orphan who grew up in Kish. Indrajit and Fix’s job is to keep an eye on a famous opera star named Ilsa Without Peer. There’s been an insurance policy taken out on her and the risk merchant t... Read More

Hoka! Hoka! Hoka!: Cute aliens provide much entertainment

Hoka! Hoka! Hoka! by Poul Anderson & Gordon R. Dickson

Hoka! Hoka! Hoka! (1998), by Poul Anderson & Gordon R. Dickson, has been on my TBR list for years and, thanks to Tantor Media, which just released the first audio edition, it has finally landed in my audiobook player. As I anticipated, this collection of stories about the cute fuzzy aliens known as the Hoka, were really entertaining.

The Hoka are creatures that look like large teddy bears and they’re known throughout the universe as being “the most imaginative race of beings in known space.” They have a fascination with human culture and they love to mimic it, often on a grand scale, but they’re not always able to distinguish fact from fiction when they read about humans. The Hoka dev... Read More

Before the Dawn: An entertaining if lesser Taine novel

Before the Dawn by John Taine

Following the release of John Taine’s four-part, serialized novel The Time Stream, which wrapped up in the March 1932 issue of Wonder Stories, fans of the Scottish-born author would have to wait a good 27 months for any more sci-fi product from him. But this is not to say that Taine was idle during that time, his “day job” as a mathematician and professor — under his given name Eric Temple Bell — keeping him more than busy, and indeed, in 1933, Bell even came out with a nonfiction book entitled Numerology. But fans of the Taine alter ego, and the wondrous nine novels that had thus far been the product of his abundant imagination, were eventually rewarded in June ’34, with the release of... Read More

Weaver’s Folly: Great secondary characters enrich a great spring-break read

Weaver’s Folly by Sarah Madsen

Warm weather’s coming, and pandemic restrictions are easing as vaccines become readily available, at least in the USA. It’s almost the time of year for a beach book, a park book, a camping book or even just a sitting-on-the-front-porch-sipping-iced-tea book, and Sarah Madsen’s Weaver’s Folly (2021) is an excellent candidate.

Madsen and I share a publisher, Falstaff Books. I bought my copy of Weaver’s Folly on Amazon and I’m getting no special consideration for this review. Weaver’s Folly is the first book of the SHADOWSPINNER Series.

Weaver’s Folly features elves in a futuristic Atlanta. Alyssa is a “runner” or a thief, whose (charming!) cover job is selling “antiques” — MP3 players, cell phones and tablets, for instance. ... Read More

Forty Thousand in Gehenna: A new human society evolves

Forty Thousand in Gehenna by C.J. Cherryh

Tantor Audio recently released two of C.J. Cherryh’s stand-alone ALLIANCE-UNION novels, Merchanter's Luck and Forty Thousand in Gehenna (1983), together under the title Alliance Space. I’m reviewing the novels separately since that’s the way they were originally published and can still be purchased. However, I love that you can get them both in one Kindle edition or one 22-hour long audiobook! The narration by Daniel Thomas May works well enough, though his voice is a little too deep to handle many female characters. That becomes noticeable in Forty Thousand ... Read More