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Deeplight: A new take on the Cthulhu mythos

Deeplight by Frances Hardinge

They say that the Undersea was the dwelling place of the gods. They say many things of the Myriad, and all of them are true. The gods were as real as the coastlines and currents and as merciless as the winds and whirlpools.

No one knows who or what the gods were, the giant creatures who lived in the sea and then, mysteriously, all died. But everyone knows that a piece of a dead god can make your fortune. Hark is still a child himself, all of 14 years old, but he knows it, too. That’s why he’s in the crowd when a submarine brings back parts of the Hidden Lady, the god that used to live in the waters around the archipelago on which he lives. His friend, Jelt, knows it too, and he has plans that call for Hark to do some hazardous things to make them both rich. Hark pays the price for Jelt’s foolishness, sold into indentured servitude.

Hark is lucky that he has a golden tongu... Read More

Sweep with Me: Battling space chickens and other troublesome guests at the inn

Sweep with Me by Ilona Andrews

Sweep with Me (2020), the fifth book in Ilona Andrews’s INNKEEPER CHRONICLES series, finds Dina DeMille fretting with her boyfriend Sean about an upcoming official review of Dina and the Gertrude Hunt, her magical inn for interstellar travelers. The innkeepers’ Assembly is concerned about some of the goings-on at the Gertrude Hunt and whether Dina and Sean have been keeping their rules, including not letting anyone on Earth know that their inn isn’t an ordinary one.

In the meantime, though, it’s the annual Treaty Stay holiday for earth’s galactic inns, and the tradition is that no innkeeper may turn away a guest during Treaty Stay. So, naturally, Dina and her inn are asked to host a set of particularly troublesome guests: the Drífan liege lord of Green Mou... Read More

Star Wars: Darth Vader Vol. 3: The Shu-Torun War: Vader has a go at political intrigue

Star Wars: Darth Vader Vol. 3: The Shu-Torun War by Kieron Gillen & Salvador Larroca

The fourth volume in Kieron Gillen’s DARTH VADER series focuses more on political strategy and warfare than the earlier volumes (which were more to do with espionage). In the wake of the first Death Star’s destruction, the Empire is desperate to regain a foothold on the galaxy and reverse the morale acquired by the Rebellion through the loss of their great weapon.

Vader is sent to the planet of Shu-Torun, a place rich in natural resources that help fuel the Empire, where Ore Barons are fighting against their new ruler. Queen Trios was crowned by Vader himself after he assassinated her father, and in what feels like a deliberate reflection of Padme Amidala, she’s beginning to flex the boundaries of her power. To keep Shu-Torun under the control of the Emperor, Vader goes to support her rule.

... Read More

The Court of Miracles: A quick-paced series-opener with a few issues

The Court of Miracles by Kester Grant

There’s a scene in Kester Grant’s The Court of Miracles (2020) where an entire room of nobles is hypnotized by the head of the assassin’s guild into doing something horrific, but which they are wholly oblivious to. It’s an apt scene to note, because while this first book in the COURT OF MIRACLES trilogy is far from horrific (really, far from it), Grant is such a fluid writer that she lulls you into a sort of readerly trance, a smoothly flowing journey that carries you effortlessly along, leaving you if not oblivious at least uncaring with regard to the story’s several flaws. As such, it’s one of those occasional odd novels where I’m going to say there are lots of places it isn’t very good, but you still may find yourself enjoying it anyway.

The blurbs label it a retelling (of sorts) of Les Misérables,... Read More

Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe: A wacky MG SF story

Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe by Carlos Hernandez

Readers who enjoyed Carlos Hernandez’s Nebula-nominated Sal and Gabi Break the Universe are likely to also enjoy the sequel, Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe (2020). The story picks up where the previous one left off. Sal’s “magical” abilities have left holes in the universe and his father (Papi) is building a machine (in the living room) that he hopes will fix the holes. But Sal notices that the machine makes him feel sad when he’s around it… and it might be developing consciousness.

Other weird things are happening, too. Sal meets a Gabby from another universe who has come to warn him about Papi’s machine. The new toilet at school wants ... Read More

Darth Vader and the Cry of Shadows: A look at Vader through unexpected eyes

Darth Vader and the Cry of Shadows by Tim Siedell, Gabriel Guzman, Michael Atiyeh, Felipe Massafera

From the same author that released Darth Vader and the Ninth Assassin, Darth Vader and the Cry of Shadows is a graphic novel set a few months after The Revenge of the Sith, in which the Empire is consolidating its power across the galaxy.

Despite Vader’s name being in the title, it’s really the story of a clone soldier who is left for dead by his Jedi general during the Clone Wars.

Defecting from the army he hides away for years on a backwater planet, only to become intrigued by rumours of the terrifying Darth Vader. He signs up to become a Stormtrooper, and once again finds meaning on the battlefield – though it isn’t the same as when he fought under Jedi lead... Read More

Nevertell: Occasionally rises above its mostly solid nature

Nevertell by Katharine Orton

Nevertell (2020), by Katharine Orton, is an engaging if somewhat limited Middle Grade book set in the wild north of Stalinist Russia and focused on a young girl trying to escape a brutal work camp and make her way south to Moscow and the grandmother she’s been told would be able to take her in.

Twelve-year-old Lina was born in the camp (her father is rumored to be the cruel commandant Zima) that her grandfather, mother, and uncle had been brought to years earlier. Only she and her mother Katya have survived, and when a trio of prisoners come up with a desperate escape plan, Katya provides the distraction that allows them, along with Lina’s best friend Bogdan, to get beyond the fence and into the frozen Siberian woodland. The weather is deadly enough, but the forest is also home to a powerful sorceress known as the “Manhunter.” And Lina and Bogdan’s fellow prisoners may not b... Read More

Bloom: A scary plant pandemic that now seems possible

Bloom by Kenneth Oppel

Three kids battle an invasive plant in Kenneth Oppel’s latest middle grade fantasy. Bloom (2020) is mysterious and thrilling all the way through. Our heroes are:

Anaya, who’s allergic to almost everything.

Petra, who’s allergic to water. She used to be Anaya’s best friend until Anaya betrayed her.

Seth, the new kid in town who’s being fostered by farmers.

When black weeds appear suddenly and grow tall overnight, nobody knows what they are, even Anaya’s botanist father. The townsfolk pull out and chop down the weeds but they just come back the next day. Nothing kills them.

It’s soon discovered that these weeds are growing all over the planet and causing severe allergic reactions. People are wearing face masks to protect... Read More

Baba Yaga’s Assistant: A compelling tale by a gifted collaboration

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Baba Yaga's Assistant by Marika McCoola (author) & Emily Carroll (illustrator)

Baba Yaga's Assistant, by Marika McCoola and illustrated by Emily Carroll, is a MG graphic novel that tries to work the frightening richness of the Baba Yaga folktales into the press of modern family life, but despite the great source material, the attempt falls short, though it has its moments.

The protagonist is Masha, a young girl whose father has just proposed to a woman sometime after her mother's death. Her father had relegated most of Masha’s upbringing to her grandmo... Read More

Semiosis: Oh, give me a home where the fippokats roam…

Semiosis by Sue Burke

Semiosis, Sue Burke’s 2018 debut novel, is a fascinating examination of culture, intelligence, and co-operation in the face of extreme hardship. A small group of high-minded and free-thinking colonists have left Earth for a planet they’ve named Pax, in honor of their Utopic dream of what the planet represents, though they quickly discover that peace is not easily achieved — especially when they discover that you can never go home again, but neither can you completely leave it behind.

Pax has breathable air and potable water, a higher gravity than Earth, and a terrifying menagerie of plants and animals offering constant reminders that expectations about how things will work can be deadly. One of the biggest stumbling blocks for the new residents of Pax, something they butt their heads against time and time again, is their assumed sense of superior sapient intelligence; just beca... Read More

The Way Past Winter: A simple but evocative fairy tale

The Way Past Winter by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

The first thing about this book that caught my eye was just how beautiful it was: the green binding, the interior pattern, the embossed cover-art — I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but it really is a lovely object to behold.

The story itself rides the current popular wave of Scandinavian-based fairy tales, and reads a little like Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen”. Winter has lasted for five years in Eldbjørn Forest, and siblings Oskar, Sanna, Mila and Pipa are barely hanging on. After their mother’s death and their father’s disappearance, the four of them live all alone in the woods, seeing nothing in their futures but more of the bitter cold.

But after a strange encounter in the forest with a huge, bear-like man and his silent entourage, Mila wakes up to find her brother has disappeared. She insists he wouldn’t abandon ... Read More

The Illustrated World of MORTAL ENGINES: A great companion piece

The Illustrated World of Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

The film adaptation of Mortal Engines may have been a disappointment, but at least its release led to more material from Philip Reeve — not only this book, but a series of short stories starring Anna Fang, and new reprints of the original MORTAL ENGINES quartet. So it all works out well!

The Illustrated World of Mortal Engines (2018) is a standard tie-in volume that comes with many a book franchise, in which the world of Mortal Engines is explored in more detail, complete with maps, time-lines, illustrations, profiles of characters, and other little tidbits that adds depth and flavour to the world-building.

Here the presen... Read More

Stars Beyond: A better sequel

Stars Beyond by S.K. Dunstall

Stars Beyond (2020) is the sequel to sisterly writing duo S.K. Dunstall’s novel Stars Uncharted which Tadiana and I reviewed last year. We agreed that it was a Firefly-type story that was accessible and pleasant, but lacked originality. The good news, though, is that book two, Stars Beyond, is better.

Stars Beyond picks up where Stars Uncharted left off. The crew of The Road has a new spaceship (called Another Road) decked out with weapons. They’re still on the run from the corporate entities who are pursuing them for various reasons and have tea... Read More

Riverland: A sad but sweet tale of resilience

Riverland by Fran Wilde

Sisters Eleanor and Mike have come to rely on each other for comfort and love. The space beneath Eleanor’s bed is a favorite hiding place where they can retreat from real life when their parents begin to fight almost every night.

One night, after their abusive father breaks the family heirloom they call the “witch ball,” the girls find a river running under Eleanor’s bed. After falling in, they discover that the river leads to a land of dreams and nightmares and that, according to strange creatures who live there, Eleanor and Mike’s mother’s family members are the gatekeepers of this world. They are supposed to maintain the boundary that keeps the worlds separate, but they haven’t been doing the job and now the nightmare world is starting to leak into the real world. This means that people will experience more nightmares, but the leaking is also literal — the houses in their neighborhood are... Read More

The Hanged Man: Rune confronts the Arcanum and his own doubts

The Hanged Man by K.D. Edwards

The Hanged Man, published in 2019, is the second book in K.D. Edwards’s fantasy series THE TAROT SEQUENCE. In the first book, The Last Sun, we men Rune Sun, last of the Sun Court, in New Atlantis. New Atlantis is the former island of Nantucket and exists because of a truce between humans and the Atlanteans, at the end of a devastating war. The New Atlanteans value power only, which they confuse with strength. When unnamed individuals mounted a murderous raid on the Court of the Sun, the Arcanum, or ruling 22 families of New Atlantis, did nothing to stop it. Rune was taken in by Lord Tower, and made a living as an investigator or “fixer,” along with his human Companion bodyguard Brand. ... Read More

Skeleton Key: A darker take on the teen spy’s adventures

Skeleton Key by Anthony Horowitz

The ALEX RIDER books have always veered on the side of realism (as opposed to other teen-targeted spy stories such as Spy Kids and Kim Possible) but even I was surprised by just how dark the third book in Anthony Horowitz's series actually got.

Having been recruited and trained by MI6 in order to infiltrate locations and undergo missions in which teenagers go unnoticed, fourteen year old Alex is happy to be free of espionage and just hanging out with the lovely Sabina Pleasure (a Bond girl if ever there was one).

Naturally, his fun is over when he's once again approached by the Special Divisions Unit — first to go undercover as a ballboy at Wimbledom to investigate a strange break-in, and then (which takes up the bulk of Skeleton Key Read More

How Dark the World Becomes: Who doesn’t love a good-hearted gangster?

How Dark the World Becomes by Frank Chadwick

Sasha Naradnyo is a mid-level gangster in “Crack City,” a city literally inside a large canyon on the surface of a planet called Peezgtaan that’s mostly inhabited by the Varoki, a sentient lizard-like species. The smaller population of humans, second-class citizens on Peezgtaan, have been ghettoized to Crack City, the only place on the planet where they can breathe the air. They came to Peezgtaan to work for a pharmaceutical company that later went bust, and now they’re stuck on the hostile planet.

Sasha’s got a good heart, so he doesn’t like being a gangster, but he’s pretty talented at it. He’s smart, tough, and resourceful. But after his girlfriend betrays him and his boss tries to assassinate him, Sasha needs to get off-planet fast.

He takes a job as a bodyguard for three people who are also fleeing Peezgtaan. One is a human economist who was visiting ... Read More

Wonder Woman: Warbringer: A fresh look at an old favourite

Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo

The DC ICONS COLLECTION is a series of four YA novels that take a famous DC superhero and explores their background before they became the stuff of legends. This means having a look at their adolescence, whether it's Clark tending the farm in Smallvillle, Bruce doing voluntary work in Arkham Asylum, or Selena Kyle struggling to survive the streets of Gotham City.

In the case of Princess Diana, she's a young Amazonian warrior on the island of Themyscira, just beginning to understand her incredible power, but mostly eager to use it to impress her mother. That changes when a young woman is washed ashore, and Diana decides to break the law of the island by rescuing her.

Her new friend is called Alia, who is naturally baffled by her own environment — but has a secret of her ow... Read More

Spindle’s End: A light, sweet, unhurried fantasy

Reposting to include Tadiana's review.

Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley

Spindle’s End (2000) is Robin McKinley’s delightful and very loose retelling of the Sleeping Beauty (Little Briar Rose) fairy tale.

On the princess’s naming day, a bad fairy declares a curse, stating that, on her 21st birthday, the princess will prick her finger on a spindle and die. In an attempt to thwart the curse, a good fairy named Katriona takes the princess to live with her aunt in a swampy region called Foggy Bottom. There, without any knowledge of her true heritage, Rosie grows up happily with human and animal companions while her mother, the Queen, pines for her lost daughter.

After the opening scenes in which the princess is cursed, Spindles’ End Read More

Hellboy in Mexico: Mostly Fight Scenes

Hellboy in Mexico by Mike Mignola (writer) and various artists

Hellboy in Mexico is a collection of short stories. It starts out with the same story that is in Hellboy (Vol. 11): The Bride of Hell and Others:

“Hellboy in Mexico, or A Drunken Blur” is a funny story about Hellboy’s lost five months in Mexico drinking and wrestling. The story starts in 1982 with Hellboy and Abe Sapien in Mexico together. Abe Sapien finds an old wrestling poster showing Hellboy with three other wrestlers. Hellboy tells him that it was from 1956. Hellboy then tells Abe the story of how he met the three wrestling brothers who were also monster hunters. Hellboy joined the brothers to fight monsters during the day and party at night. Then one night one of the brothers is taken by the vampires, and Hellboy goes in search of his lost friend. The story takes a strange turn once they locate the lost br... Read More

Two Thousand Miles Below: The Gor hole and the blowhole

Two Thousand Miles Below by Charles W. Diffin

In November 1951, the first feature film based on a DC Comics superhero was released. That film, Superman and the Mole Men, is fondly remembered today, especially since it was later transformed into the two-part episode that aired near the end of the first season of TV’s Adventures of Superman, and shown on television under the title “The Unknown People.” In this film, Clark Kent and Lois Lane travel to the small town of Silsby, TX, to cover a story about the world’s deepest oil rig … a story that becomes even more interesting when denizens from deep below the Earth emerge from that borehole and cause panic among the populace. However, if a certain novel from almost 20 years earlier is to be believed, this was not the first time that such an operation had disturbed our underground neighbors. The novel in question is Two Thousand Miles Below, which... Read More

Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen: Miracle or hoax?

Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen by Dexter Palmer

Dexter Palmer has been one of my must-read authors since I read Version Control. It was my favorite book of 2016 and I’ve been eagerly awaiting his next novel.

Here it is. It’s called Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen (2019) and it’s based on the real Mary Toft, an early 18th century English woman who claimed to keep giving birth to rabbits. Flummoxed, her small town’s doctor, John Howard, wrote to colleagues in London asking for insight. One London doctor, a gullible and self-aggrandizing man named Nathaniel St Andre, visited the woman and was similarly perplexed. He planned to use Mary’s case to promote himself.

Eventually, King George I asks for Mary Toft to be brou... Read More

Anthropocene Rag: Its strengths outweigh its few issues

Anthropocene Rag by Alex Irvine

I’m of mixed feelings on Anthropocene Rag (2020), by Alex Irvine. On the one hand, the writing is often quite strong, and the novel has a creative, imaginative flair to it in many moments. On the other hand, its episodic nature didn’t fully work for me, and I can’t say the novel fully met its rich potential. Still, its strengths outweigh its weaknesses, and there’s often a true pleasure in reading it.

The story is set in a post “Boom” America, the Boom being when AI ran free and randomly (to human eyes at least) transformed things and people, “revising” the known world and creating beings called “constructs” that can’t always be distinguished from humans. Various parts of the country are varied in their degree of change and danger, with San Francisco one of the better “boomscapes” thanks to having electricity and food. Even there, ... Read More

Children of Ruin: Scary biological science fiction

Children of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Children of Ruin (2019) is the second book in Adrian Tchaikovsky’s CHILDREN OF TIME series, following Children of Time, which you’ll want to read first.

Children of time, which I called “an expansive and visionary epic that speculates about the future of humanity,” was fascinating. In it we watched the evolution of a species of spider that was uplifted by a man-made virus. The scientist who brought it to the terraformed but uninhabited planet had planned to uplift monkeys, but an accident resulted in spiders being uplifted instead. At the end of the long novel, humans finally arrived and befriended the spiders.
Read More

The Institute: A horror story of the human heart

The Institute by Stephen King

Stephen King takes over 550 pages to relate the story of the mysterious Institute and its merciless dealings with kidnapped children. Given that page count, it shouldn’t be too surprising that King spends the first forty pages setting up his tale with a seemingly unrelated story of a man adrift in his life. Tim Jamieson, an out-of-work cop, takes a hefty payout to give up his seat on an overfull flight, and ends up making his rambling way from Tampa, Florida to the small town of DuPray, South Carolina, where the local sheriff gives him a job as a night knocker, an unarmed beat cop who patrols DuPray during the night. But — as King informs us not once, but twice — great events turn on small hinges.

That same summer, Luke Ellis, a twelve-year-old Minneapolis boy with genius-level intelligence, loving parent... Read More