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The Girls at the Kingfisher Club: Twelve dancing princesses meet the Roaring Twenties

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine

As far as fairy tale retellings go, mingling the tale of The Twelve Dancing Princesses with the 1920's New York speakeasies makes a lovely kind of sense. The prohibition, the dance halls, the high society – it all fits perfectly with the story of twelve princesses who sneak out of their rooms every night, much to the bewilderment of their father when he sees their worn-out shoes every morning.

Genevieve Valentine transports the familiar beats of the story to a Fifth Avenue townhouse in the Roaring Twenties, in which the daughters of wealthy magnate Joseph Hamilton are kept in captivity, seen by no one but themselves. He was eager for a son of course, but his wife died after twelve girls (including two sets of twins).

This leaves Josephine, the firstborn... Read More

Priest of Lies: Is Tomas going down the wrong path?

Priest of Lies by Peter McLean

Priest of Lies (2019) is the second book in Peter McLean’s WAR FOR THE ROSE THRONE. You’ll need to read the first book, Priest of Bones, first. This review will have some spoilers for that first novel.

It’s been six months since the events that happened at the end of Priest of Bones. Tomas is now married to Elsa, the Queen’s Man who has been (unbeknownst to the rest of the Pious Men) directing his behavior in service of the crown. The marriage is a sham and Tomas has soured on Elsa after the explosion that she orchestrated killed hundreds of people in his city. He isn’t sure (and neither am I) that it was necessary or wise. He also does... Read More

The Nightjar: Promises more and better to come

The Nightjar by Deborah Hewitt

Deborah Hewitt’s The Nightjar (2019) is one of those debut novels that in many ways feels like a first novel, with all the issues that may conjure up, but that despite those issues leaves you eager to see where the author goes with her next novel.

Hewitt starts off with a gripping, chilling prologue, then shifts to present-time London where Alice Wyndham receives an odd gift that precipitates her being flung into a long-running conflict between a species of people with special abilities, most of whom live in an alternate near-copy 1930’s-style London (called The Rookery), and a secret society (unfortunately known as the Beaks) who seeks to destroy them. There’s also a death-cult trying to instigate a world-ending apocalypse thrown into the mix for good measure. Alice herself, she learns, is one of those who can perform “magic.” More precisely, she ... Read More

The Woman Who Rides Like a Man: Jennifer Lawrence of Arabia

The Woman Who Rides Like a Man by Tamora Pierce

The Woman Who Rides Like a Man is the third volume of the SONG OF THE LIONESS quartet and the weakest volume of the series. Tamora Pierce makes a good effort of exposing Alanna (and thus, the reader) to some of the varying peoples and customs within the Tortallan kingdom and its neighboring countries, but relies too much on the White Savior trope, and the entire book suffers as a result. As I’ve said before, readers should start with the first book, Alanna: The First Adventure and work forward, though Pierce does a great job of summarizing key events from previous books.

The entire SONG OF THE LIONESS series is about old ways changing to make w... Read More

Priest of Bones: A brutal beginning

Priest of Bones by Peter McLean

Tomas Piety, a foul-mouthed army priest who recently promoted himself to captain after the death of the former captain, is on his way home with his second-in-command, Lieutenant Bloody Anne, and some of their soldiers. The war is over and Tomas is looking forward to returning to Ellinburg, his hometown, where he owns several small businesses such as taverns and brothels.

Actually, to call Tomas a businessman is slightly generous. In fact, he’s a mob boss and much of his wealth comes from selling protection to those who are weaker. He can be savage when necessary but, generally, he’s a nice guy who cares for the people he feels responsible for, including the citizens of his town. The men who work for him in Ellinburg are known as the Pious Men and Tomas has invited his remaining veterans to join them. (I’m not sure why they didn’t go back to their own hometowns.)

When Tomas and... Read More

Dark Age: This series is starting to feel its length

Dark Age by Pierce Brown

Dark Age (2019) is Pierce Brown’s fifth installment in his Homeric-styled RED RISING space opera, and it comes pre-loaded with many of the set scenes fans have come to expect: major space battles, desperate fights against overwhelming odds, brutal deaths and torture scenes, labyrinthian scheming, verbal volleys nearly as nasty as the physical ones (though with less decapitation), great names, the slaughter of millions, painful introspection. It’s all here and all handled with the same effectively, skillfully bombastic style as the prior four novels in the series.

Which is both the strength and weakness of this latest episode. On the one hand, all of those story elements, combined with Brown’s stylistic gifts, are what have made this series so compulsively readable. On the other hand, for the v... Read More

Crown of Dreams: Things get tough for Rhianna and her friends

Crown of Dreams by Katherine Roberts

Crown of Dreams (2013) is the third book in Katherine Roberts's four-part PENDRAGON LEGACY series, which details the quest undertaken by Princess Rhianna — daughter of Arthur Pendragon and his queen Guinevere — to find the Four Lights that might save the city of Camelot and restore her father back to life.

Already she has two of the four Lights in her possession: the Sword of Light and the Lance of Truth, the latter of which is now carried by her champion Sir Cai. Other allies include her fairy friend Elphin from the Isle of Avalon, her maid Arianrhod, who was once a servant to the witch Morgan le Fey, and the wizard Merlin, currently trapped in the body of a small hunting hawk. Then there are the Knights of the Round Table, including Sirs Bors, Bedieve... Read More

Lance of Truth: Rhianna’s adventure continues

Lance of Truth by Katherine Roberts

Lance of Truth (2012) is the second book in Katherine Roberts's four-part story about the daughter of King Arthur Pendragon, and her quest to find the Four Lights (Sword of Light, Lance of Truth, Crown of Dreams and Holy Grail) that might restore her father to life and bring peace to Britain.

Princess Rhianna has lived her whole life on the enchanted isle of Avalon, but after learning of her parentage upon the death of King Arthur, she journeys to the mainland with her friend Elphin in order to claim the throne of Camelot. Having already found Excalibur, the Sword of Light, she now plans to retrieve the Lance of Truth, currently in possession of the disgraced Sir Lancelot.

But Lancelot is himself missing, on a search for Queen Guinevere in the northern lands. ... Read More

Sword of Light: A new spin on Arthurian legend

Sword of Light by Katherine Roberts

Rhianna has lived her entire life on the idyllic island of Avalon, never knowing her parents or seeing anything of the world beyond the isle. But the truth comes out in Britain's darkest hour, when the wizard Merlin arrives on Avalon's shore with the body of King Arthur Pendragon, slain in battle by his nephew Mordred and missing his sword Excalibur.

Rhianna learns she is the secret daughter of Arthur and Guinevere, hidden from the world at birth and now rightful heir to Camelot's throne. It's a lot for a young girl to absorb, but when she realizes that hope for the future lies with her finding the Four Lights (the sword of light, the lance of truth, the crown of dreams and the holy grail) that could reunite the kingdom and restore her father to life, she can't wait to leave home and fulfil her rightful destiny.

Naturally it's easier said than done. She's lived a sheltered life, a... Read More

The Swarm: A longwinded build-up to an alien invasion

The Swarm by Orson Scott Card &  Aaron Johnston

Orson Scott Card's ENDERVERSE has grown to sixteen novels and counting, along with several novellas and short stories, since he published Ender’s Game in 1985 (or if you want to go back even further, since the original “Ender’s Game” short story was published in Analog magazine in 1977). Andrew Wiggin, or Ender, is the main character in only a few of these works; others focus on his brother Peter Wiggin, Ender’s protégé Bean, and other new or secondary characters from Ender’s Game. Which brings us to Mazer Rackham, the half-Māori war hero who plays a brief but pivotal role in Ender’s Game.

I... Read More

The Temple of Fire: An exciting Lost World novel for younger readers

The Temple of Fire by Francis Henry Atkins (Frank Aubrey/Fred Ashley)


As I mentioned in my review of English author Francis Henry Atkins’ third novel, The King of the Dead (1903), this was a writer who chose to hide behind a number of sobriquets, all of which featured the initials “F.A.” Those pen names were Frank Aubrey (which he used for that 1903 novel), Frank Atkins, Fenton Ash and Fred Ashley. I had hugely enjoyed the third novel by this seldom-discussed author, so eagerly jumped at the chance to try my luck at another. Fortunately, Armchair Fiction’s current 24-volume Lost World/Lost Race series has now made another of this unjustly neglected writer’s works available, namely The Templ... Read More

Fall, or Dodge in Hell: A super cool concept that eventually collapses

Fall, or Dodge in Hell by Neal Stephenson

Richard (“Dodge”) Forthrast, the famous and popular billionaire who created a much-loved video gaming company, unexpectedly dies during a routine medical procedure. Many years previously he had been duped into signing a contract that specified that his brain should be preserved until technology was developed that could scan and upload it to a virtual environment. He never changed his will. Unable to get out of this legal predicament, his family is forced to adhere to his youthful whims.

Dodge’s niece Zula, and her daughter Sophia, who remembers her great-uncle with great fondness, are determined to be part of the creation and evolution of the virtual space where the brains of rich dead people go. Unfortunately, they have a rival — Elmo Shepherd, the man who owns the company that’s got Dodge’s brain. He’s a zealot who’s anxious to create the virtual world as fast as possible... Read More

The Song of Rhiannon: Problems with the source material

The Song of Rhiannon by Evangeline Walton

The Song of Rhiannon (1972), the third volume in Evangeline Walton’s MABINOGION TETRALOGY, begins with Manawyddan, son of the sea god, haunted by grief and feeling directionless after the events of The Children of Llyr. (I haven’t read The Children of Llyr, but I have read “Branwen Daughter of Llyr,” the medieval Welsh tale on which it is based. It features a Red Wedding’s worth of deaths.) His friend Pryderi, prince of Dyfed, gives him new purpose in life by offering him a home at his palace and the chance to court Pryderi’s widowed mother, Rhiannon.

The Song of Rhiannon is based on the... Read More

This Body’s Not Big Enough for the Both of Us: A meta-fictional roller coaster

This Body’s Not Big Enough for the Both of Us by Edgar Cantero

This Body’s Not Big Enough for the Both of Us (2019), by Edgar Cantero, is a metafictional roller coaster ride in which the safety bar that holds you into your seat occasionally turns into licorice whips else or disappears completely.

One definition of metafiction is a form of fiction that comments on fictional and literary elements by self-consciously departing from literary conventions within the narrative. If you like metafiction, you will get a kick out of Cantero’s story, and you will probably especially enjoy the opening, which restarts four times, I think, utilizes screenplay format, and has sentences like this one:
She wandered in like a fairy-tale top model into a CGI forest, a flutter of long skirts and flaming red hair kiting be... Read More

A Green and Ancient Light: Beautifully written, gently melancholy

A Green and Ancient Light by Frederic S. Durbin

A war is raging, and a young boy is sent to spend the summer with his grandmother in her small country village. His life changes forever when she decides to rescue a downed enemy pilot and nurse him back to health. While helping her tend to the injured man, the boy also meets Mr. Girandole, a faun, who was once his grandmother’s love and is still her dear friend.

She knows just the place to conceal the pilot while he convalesces: a crooked little tower in an overgrown sculpture garden in the woods. Throughout the summer, the boy explores the garden, which was built long ago by an eccentric Duke who lost his beloved wife. The garden is reputed to contain a riddle that, if answered, will open a door to Faery.

A Green and Ancient Light (2016) is a beautifully written, gently melancholy tale. The pace is perhaps too slow at the start, with a lot... Read More

The Weapon Makers: The Isher weapon shops shift from defense to offense

The Weapon Makers by A.E. van Vogt


The Weapon Makers (1943), currently nominated for a 1944 Retro Hugo award, is the sequel to the better-known The Weapon Shops of Isher. As discussed in my review of The Weapon Shops of Isher, A.E. van Vogt was fond of creating fix-up novels based on his earlier works, and the creation and publication history of both of these novels in his EMPIRE OF ISHER duology is complicated. The Weapon Shops of Isher was published in its final form in 1951, several years after The Weapon Makers, but The Weapon Makers is set several years after The We... Read More

Generation Robot: A Century of Science Fiction, Fact, and Speculation

Generation Robot: A Century of Science Fiction, Fact, and Speculation by Terri Favro

In Generation Robot: A Century of Science Fiction, Fact, and Speculation (2019), Terri Favro mixes journalistic research, speculative fiction, and memoir, along with a series of pop culture sidebars to create an engaging if sometimes frustrating look at the history of technology that led to our current hopes for true AI and Jetson-like robot.

Favro uses a relatively broad definition of “robot,” which I confess threw me a bit now and then, though it was easy enough to recalibrate my own pre-conceived concept and go along as she looked at driverless cars, smart refrigerators, and even elevators. Those looking for the more narrow and probably more typical sort of robot needn’t worry, though. Favro hits those as well, particularly in the latter chapters (including one on sex robots).

The memoir strand is ... Read More

Mary Poppins: Perhaps not what you were expecting

Reposting to include Tadiana's new review.

Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers

Having recently seen Saving Mr. Banks, a film that purports to examine the strained relationship between author P.L. Travers and film-maker Walt Disney when it came to adapting Mary Poppins for the big screen, it was only natural that I finally got around to my long overdue reading of the classic children's story Mary Poppins.

Having grown up with the Disney film, it's quite shocking to realize how little one resembles the other. Of course, I knew there would be significant differences — the film is filled with animation and musical numbers, for a start. But I was surprised by how many of the most iconic elements of the Disney film are completely absent from the novel: there is no line of potential governesses being swept away by the East Wind, no "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," no dancing chimney s... Read More

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath: A nice blend of horror and beauty

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath by H.P. Lovecraft

Randolph Carter keeps dreaming of a beautiful unknown city which he is aching to visit. After begging the gods to show him the way and receiving no answer, he sets out on a dream-quest to find it. The priests tell him that nobody knows where the city is and that the journey will kill him, but Randolph Carter is not deterred. His quest takes him through fantastic and mostly dangerous places where he meets strange friends and enemies. All the while he can tell that the gods who don’t belong to Earth are trying to stop him from discovering Unknown Kadath.

Anyone who has read anything by H.P. Lovecraft will be familiar with his style, and it’s on full display in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (1943). Lovecraft excelled at invoking a sense of terror and dread as he described the... Read More

The Ophiuchi Hotline: Full of interesting ideas

The Ophiuchi Hotline by John Varley

Dr. Lilo Alexandr-Calypso, a brilliant geneticist who lives on the moon, has broken the law by fiddling with the human genome. Just as she’s about to be executed, she is saved by a group of vigilantes who want to use her skills to help them free the Earth from the alien invaders who’ve taken over and kicked the humans off.

Lilo doesn’t want to serve anyone, but their leader, a former president of Earth, has captured a clone of her and says that either she or the clone will be executed for Lilo’s crime. It doesn’t seem right for the clone to live on, so Lilo agrees to participate, thinking she’ll escape. She’s taken to a secret hideout located on a Jovian moon and set to work for the Free Earthers. She doesn’t like the work, which involves experiments designed to discover how to kill the invading aliens, but every time she escapes (or dies trying), she just gets cloned again. Now ... Read More

Bonfires and Broomsticks: Time-traveling with the magic bed-knob

Bonfires and Broomsticks by Mary Norton

In Bonfires and Broomsticks (1947), part two of Mary Norton’s BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS duology, it's two years after events of the first book, The Magic Bed-Knob. The three young siblings, Carey, Charles and Paul, get the chance to leave London and spend the summer in Bedfordshire with their spinster friend, Miss Price, who was a witch in training. And they still have the magic bed-knob that enables them to fly through time and space on Paul's old bed, which is now in Miss Price's bedroom! Good magical times ahead!

Or maybe not: Miss Price, while pleased to see them, has decided that being a witch is a Bad Idea, and she's given up magic. But, the children argue, almost anything is fine in moderation, and they never did get the chan... Read More

The Purple Sapphire: The great race

The Purple Sapphire by John Taine

In the Rare Book Room in NYC bookstore extraordinaire The Strand there has resided, for quite some time now, a volume that I have greatly wanted to acquire. The book in question is Scottish author John Taine’s very first novel, The Purple Sapphire, which was first released by E. P. Dutton & Co. as a hardcover in 1924 … the same year that Dutton released Russian author Yevgeny Zamyatin’s now-classic dystopian book We. The Strand edition is this very Dutton original, made even more collectible due to its nicely preserved dust ja... Read More

A Red-Rose Chain: Some pacing issues

A Red-Rose Chain by Seanan McGuire

This is one of my favorite of Chris McGrath’s covers for the OCTOBER DAYE series, and it’s one of my favorite titles too, so it pains me to say that this isn’t one of my favorite books in the series. A Red-Rose Chain (2015) suffers from some pacing issues and didn’t quite knock my socks off like The Winter Long did.

The kingdom of Silences, analogous to mortal Portland, declares war on the Mists. By faerie law, the Mists has three days to try to make peace instead. Toby annoys Queen Windermere at exactly the wrong moment, and her punishment is to travel to Silences as an ambassador.

There’s a good deal of setup for this, followed by several chapters of Toby and her chosen family discussing who should go along on the trip and... Read More

NOS4A2: Skip the show and read the book

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son. Everyone on the same page? Okay… Hill has delivered a deeply satisfying and literate novel in NOS4A2. He is absolutely his own man, and he’s very good. But he’s also picked up some tricks from his father. He writes children well, especially those that have some unique ability. In this case, Victoria McQueen has a special gift: she can find lost things. And this skill tends to transport her to wherever those lost things happen to be.

The book is most successful in its character development. Many a page is dedicated to the growth and transformation of Vic McQueen’s personality, as we see her grow from a young girl overwhelmed by her unique capabilities, to a mother equally as overwhelmed by h... Read More

Take a Thief: The backstory of a popular VALDEMAR character

Take a Thief by Mercedes Lackey

One of Mercedes Lackey’s most popular characters is Herald Skif, the young former thief who we met in the first two VALDEMAR trilogies (HERALDS OF VALDEMAR and MAGE WINDS). In Take a Thief (2001), a stand-alone prequel novel, Lackey gives us his backstory.

It starts as so many of her stories do. Skif is a young orphaned boy who is basically a slave to his cruel uncle. The uncle owns a dirty and dilapidated tavern where, for a penny, miserly clientele can purchase the cheapest (and vilest) ale and stew in the city. Skif has lots of chores there but he tries to be out from under his uncle’s eye whenever he can. Most mornings he attends classes to learn reading and math, and he spends his afternoons stealing food from rich people... Read More