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Fata Morgana: A vintage-type tale of a WWII bomber lost in time and space

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Fata Morgana by Steven R. Boyett & Ken Mitchroney

It’s 1943, at the height of the air war during World War II. US Air Force Captain Joseph Farley and his crew of nine men fly a B-17 bomber on missions out of England, bombing German factories and other military targets. On their last mission their bomber Voice of America, a never-ending source of problems (“fixing this one’s like taking a gator to the vet. You’re just making it better so it can try to kill you again”) finally bit the dust permanently, and the crew is assigned a brand new B-17F bomber, which they christen Fata Morgana after an unusual type of mirage, along with a new ball turret gunner, Sergeant Martin Proud Horse, a Native American of the Lakota tribe. One of the men, Shorty, is a gifted artist who paints a sorceress type of woman on the nose of the Fata Morgana, following Captain Farley’s deta... Read More

Cibola Burn: The flagship space opera series

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Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey

In my review of the third EXPANSE novel from James S.A. Corey (actually a collaborative effort from Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck), I said this:
How did Corey do, based on strengths I highlighted in reviews of the first two books?

fluid prose: check
likable characters: check
mostly strong characterization: check
humor that runs throughout: check
nice balance of shoot-em-up action, political fighting, and personal conflicts: check, check, and check
quick pace that had me knock of a 500+ page book in a single setting: check
a feel (in a good way) of old-time sci-fi along the likes of Heinlein or Asimov: check
a ratcheting up of tension and stakes: check and check
a sense of risk thanks to not al... Read More

Cold Welcome: More Vatta!

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Cold Welcome by Elizabeth Moon

I was surprised and pleased to see that Elizabeth Moon has continued her VATTA’S WAR quintet with a sequel series called VATTA’S PEACE. I read all of VATTA’S WAR (Trading in Danger, Marque and Reprisal, Engaging the Enemy, Command Decision, Read More

The Boy on the Bridge: Interesting characters can’t rise above established tropes

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The Boy on the Bridge by M.R. Carey

M.R. Carey’s 2014 novel, The Girl with All the Gifts, was lauded by both Terry and Ray for bringing new life to tired zombie-fiction tropes. The Boy on the Bridge (2017) occupies a prequel/companion/sequel position, in that most of this novel takes place before Melanie’s story, but a twenty-years-later epilogue swoops around and seems to pick up after The Girl with All the Gifts ended. (Full disclosure: I haven’t read that novel yet, but I’m familiar enough with the plot/events to recognize significant places and people like Beacon, Hotel Echo, Dr. Caldwell, and others as they’re mentioned.) Do not follow my ex... Read More

Viriconium Nights: Seven stories set in Viriconium

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

Viriconium Nights by M. John Harrison

I was in Viriconium once. I was a much younger woman then. What a place that is for lovers! The Locust Winter carpets its streets with broken insects; at the corners they sweep them into strange-smelling drifts which glow for the space of a morning like heaps of gold before they fade away.

Viriconium Nights is the last book in M. John Harrison’s VIRICONIUM epic. It’s a collection of these seven short stories set in and around the city of Viriconium:

“The Lamia and Lord Cromis” — tegeus-Cromis, a dwarf, and a man named Dissolution Kahn travel to a poisonous bog to destroy a dangerous Lamia.
 “Viriconium Knights” — Ignace Retz, a young swordsman and treasure seeker, discovers an old man who has ... Read More

The Floating Gods: A mysterious plague hits Viriconium

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

The Floating Gods (aka In Viriconium in the UK) by M. John Harrison

In this third volume of the VIRICONIUM omnibus, we visit the old artists’ quarter of Viriconium — a lazy decaying place where gardens bloom and the smell of black currant gin exudes from the taverns where the increasingly lackadaisical citizens used to sit and talk about art and philosophy. This part of the city used to be vibrant and innovative, but it has been deteriorating as a psychological plague has been creeping in from the high city. The artists’ patrons, infected by this plague of mediocrity, have become dreamy and only want to purchase uninspired sentimental watercolor landscapes. And all they want to talk about is the debauched antics of the Barley Brothers, a couple of twins who act like buffoons but are rumored... Read More

Just One Damned Thing After Another: Fun, fluffy time-travel tale

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Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor

Just One Damned Thing After Another is the first novel in Jodi Taylor’s THE CHRONICLES OF ST. MARY’S series. It’s got a fun premise that’s similar to Kage Baker’s THE COMPANY series and Connie Willis’ work. St. Mary’s is a shadowy, underfunded institution related to the University of Thirsk that recruits historians and trains them to travel to the past to witness historical events. Our main protagonist is Dr. Maxwell (just called “Maxwell” or “Max”), a historian with a tragic past and no family ties. In this first book in the series, we watch her get recruited, go through rigorous training, and become one of S... Read More

The Pastel City: A baroque, decaying, phantasmagoric dream city

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

The Pastel City by M. John Harrison

Viriconium sits on the ruins of an ancient civilization that nobody remembers. The society that was technologically advanced enough to create crystal airships and lethal energy weapons is dead. These Afternoon Cultures depleted the world’s metal ores, leaving mounds of inscrutable rusted infrastructure with only a few odds and ends that still work. The current citizens of Viriconium are baffled by what they’ve dug up, but they have no idea what any of it is for.

tegeus-Cromis, “who fancies himself a better poet than swordsman,” used to be Viriconium’s best fighter until he left the Pastel City after King Methven died. But Viriconium is now under threat — young Queen Jane, Methven’s daughter, is about to lose the empire to her evil cousin. Queen Jane needs the help of the men... Read More

Planet of Blood and Ice: A teen sci-fi horror thriller that wants to be a movie

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Planet of Blood and Ice by A.J. Hartley

Planet of Blood and Ice (2017) is the first book in A.J. Hartley’s CATHEDRALS OF GLASS series for teens. Hartley is billing this story as Alien meets Lord of the Flies, and I’d say that description is fairly accurate since Planet of Blood and Ice is about a group of teens who must overcome the dangers of a hostile alien environment while struggling to live with each other in a safe and civilized fashion.

The story starts as a spaceship containing ten teenagers crash-lands on an icy planet (here is some concept art.) The kids are juvenile delinquents who had be... Read More

The Lady of the Lake: The final WITCHER book

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The Lady of the Lake by Andrzej Sapkowski

The Lady of the Lake (English translation, 2017) is the final WITCHER book by Andrzej Sapkowski. Don’t bother to start it until you’ve read the previous novels. I’ll assume you’re caught up with the series, so this review will have mild spoilers for the previous books.

The story starts where the last one, The Tower of Swallows, left off. Ciri has disappeared into the Tower of Swallows, Yennefer has been captured by Vilgefortz and is being tortured, and Geralt has no idea if Yennefer and Ciri are still alive. He is wasting his time fighting monsters in a sleepy town that seems to have cast a spell over him. Meanwhile ... Read More

Trouble with Lichen: Complications of eternal youth

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Reposting to include Sandy's new review.

Trouble with Lichen by John Wyndham

Published in 1960, John Wyndham’s Trouble with Lichen tells the story of Diana Brackley, a revolutionary, a feminist, and a scientist.

Diana is considered odd because although she is attractive, she does not want to marry. Instead, she is dedicated to her career in the lab, and it is there that she makes her amazing discovery: a type of lichen that slows the aging process. Diana decides to use the lichen to empower women, and she sets up a beauty clinic that caters to rich and influential women (more ... Read More

The White Road of the Moon: An enchanting tale of black-eyed witches, pale ghosts, and the white road

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The White Road of the Moon by Rachel Neumeier

In The White Road of the Moon (2017), a YA high fantasy filled with magic and ghosts, 15 year old orphaned Meridy lives in an isolated mountain village with her aunt and cousins, all of whom despise her (and the feeling is mutual). It’s partly because Meridy’s mother Kamay raised her with a love for books and old languages and stories, partly because Meridy is the daughter of a man her mother never named, who bequeathed Meridy her duskier skin and black eyes, and partly because Kamay had the audacity to die when Meridy was 11, leaving Aunt Tarana with the inconvenient obligation of raising Meridy. To make matters worse, Meridy’s black eyes are a sign of a witch, someone who can see ghosts and bind them to our world ― a magical ability that the practical-minded and suspicious Tarana detests.

So when Meridy's au... Read More

The Black Witch: A thoughtful exploration of prejudice in a fantasy world

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The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

In an ironic twist, The Black Witch (2017), a book expressly dedicated to exploring the problem of prejudice and promoting diversity and tolerance, has been accused by many voices of being the very thing it is most devoted to showing as wrong. Words like “offensive,” “racist,” “ableist,” and “homophobic” have been hurled at the author and this book. It’s understandable, because the society and most of the characters depicted in The Black Witch ― including the main character, Elloren, a beautiful and otherwise kindhearted girl ― are prejudiced and dismissive, even cruel, toward other races. It’s also deeply unfortunate and unfair, because obviously the author's primary purpose is to show how even a nice person can be steeped in prejudice because of their culture and upbringing, and how that can c... Read More

The Collapsing Empire: Entertaining setup for a new space opera series

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The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

Marion Deeds: John Scalzi’s “brand” is generally known for thoughtful premises, fast-paced action and a humorous tone (certainly there are exceptions). The Collapsing Empire hits all the right Scalzi-notes: it provides a big problem that will have long-reaching influence on human society; it has smarter-than-average characters working to fix things; it has action, snark, and humor. While one storyline is resolved, somewhat, by the end of this book, what The Collapsing Empire does best is set up the problem and introduce characters for the rest of this series.

The Empire of the Interdependency spans many star systems, and is itself dependent on the Flow, an extra-dimensional field with “s... Read More

Voyage of the Basilisk: Science and curiosity

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Reposting to include Jana's new review.

Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan

Warning: Some inevitable spoilers for the previous novels, A Natural History of Dragons and The Tropic of Serpents, will follow.

Voyage of the Basilisk: A Memoir by Lady Trent (2015) is the third in Marie Brennan’s series A NATURAL HISTORY OF DRAGONS, and I found it falling somewhere between books one and two in terms of the reading experiences (better than the first, but not quite as good as the second). As always in this series, the narrative voice is the strongest aspect and managed to (mostly) outweigh the book’s weaknesses.

Readers will most likely note the resemblanc... Read More

Exile of the Crown: A queen in hiding

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Exile of the Crown by Melissa McShane

Note: this review contains a few spoilers for Servant of the Crown and many spoilers for the bonus short story “Long Live the Queen” at the end of that novel, which sets up Exile of the Crown.

In “Long Live the Queen,” a “five years later” short story that appears at the end of Servant of the Crown (2015), the first book in Melissa McShane's CROWN OF TREMONTANE series, Queen Zara North of Tremontane comes to terms with the realization that she has inherent magical power, a type that rapidly heals her f... Read More

Empire’s End: A satisfactory conclusion

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Empire’s End by Chuck Wendig

In STAR WARS AFTERMATH: Empire’s End (2017), Chuck Wendig shows us the fateful battle on the desert planet Jakku; we see the Contingency left in place by Emperor Palpatine, and we discover that none of Leia and Han’s friends understands the concept of a baby gift.

The AFTERMATH trilogy starts immediately after the destruction of the second Death Star. Empire’s End follows Wendig-original characters Norra Wexley, her son Temmin, his crazed battle-droid Mr. Bones, a bounty hunter named Jas Emari and a turncoat Imperial loyalty officer named Sinjir, as they track Imperial war criminal Admiral Rae Sloane. We follow some canon-characters, too; Leia Organa, Han Solo and Mon Mothma primarily. (Chewbac... Read More

Rider of the Crown: Large and in charge

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Rider of the Crown by Melissa McShane

Rider of the Crown (2015), the second book in Melissa McShane’s CROWN OF TREMONTANE fantasy series, is set a generation after the events in Servant of the Crown. The story initially shifts to a neighboring country to Tremontane, where the Kirkellan live, a fierce people who live a rustic life on the grassy plains and are known for their magnificent horses. Imogen is a young warrior of the Kirkellan, and a big and intelligent girl. As a talented leader of her tiermatha, a group of thirteen warriors who fight on horseback, and the daughter of the leader of her people, she expects to be named Wa... Read More

Morning Glories (Vol. 1) by Nick Spencer (An Oxford College Student Review!)

In this new column, I'll be featuring comic book reviews written by my students at Oxford College of Emory University. Oxford College is a small liberal arts school just outside of Atlanta, Georgia. I challenge students to read and interpret comics because I believe sequential art and visual literacy are essential parts of education at any level (see my Manifesto!). I'll be posting the best of my students' reviews in this column.

Today, I am proud to present a review by Victoria Gu, the very first Oxford Student featured on our site! Victoria is a chronically sleep-deprived freshman intending to double major in Biology and Psychology and pursue a career in medicine. She originally hails from Seattle, WA where she spends her breaks indulging in overpriced hipster eats, cooking old Chinese home recipes, and camping beneath the stars. From a young a... Read More

Penric and the Shaman: Penric solves a murder mystery

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Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold

Lois McMaster Bujold’s FIVE GODS novels — The Curse of Chalion (2001), The Paladin of Souls (2003), and The Hallowed Hunt (2005) — are some of the most beloved in fantasy literature. They won the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and Mythopoeic Fantasy Awards. That’s why her fans (of which I am definitely one) where so pleased when she began writing novellas set in the same world. These have different characters than the three novels (which each stand a... Read More

The Burning World: On the road in the zombiepocalypse

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The Burning World by Isaac Marion

When we left R, the recovering zombie, and his human love Julie at the end of Warm Bodies, things were looking hopeful. But not so fast: becoming fully human again after years of zombie-hood isn't as quick or easy as R hoped. His body is still stiff and clumsy, and his memory of his prior life is still a blank to him (in fact, he's not at all sure he wants to remember his prior life). The recovery of the other zombies that have taken over America is equally tentative, one small step at a time, with many zombies not recovering at all, and others backsliding. R has no idea what to do next. It’s a spectrum: Living, Nearly Living, Mostly Dead, All Dead, with unsettlingly fluidity between them.

If this weren't diffic... Read More

Baltimore, or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire: Darkly poetic WWI story

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Baltimore, or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire by Mike Mignola & Christopher Golden

On a cold autumn night, under a black sky leached of starlight and absent the moon, Captain Henry Baltimore clutches his rifle and stares across the dark abyss of the battlefield, and knows in his heart that these are the torture fields of Hell, and damnation awaits mere steps ahead. 

Baltimore, or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire (2008) is a darkly poetic story of supernatural horrors unleashed during World War One. Lord Baltimore is our broken hero, chasing a plague-spreading vampire across the blooded lands of Europe. This is no graphic novel, but author/artist Mike Mignola, who is most known for his work on the HELLBOY Read More

Eye: For dedicated Herbert fans only

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Eye by Frank Herbert

Eye is a short story collection by Frank Herbert and is one of his last works. Published in 1985, the same year his sixth Dune novel Chapterhouse: Dune was published, Eye covers most of his career. I guess you could consider this a “best of” volume. Herbert was not a prolific short fiction writer, especially in his later years, but quite a few stories are still missing from this collection. Like many SF authors he began his career publishing in the genre's big magazines, and quite a few of these stories ended up in this collection. I thought Eye was something of a mixed bag; some of the stories don't achieve the depth many of his novels have, and more or less lean on an interesting tec... Read More

Black City Demon: This creepy, magical Prohibition-era Chicago comes to life

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Black City Demon by Richard A. Knaak

Black City Demon (2017) is the second BLACK CITY SAINT adventure of 1930s ghost-hunter Nick Medea, who is really Georgius, or Saint George, and who is sixteen hundred years old. Currently living in Chicago, Nick, who is also the guardian of the Gate between our realm and Faerie, combats human evil and the worst of the Faerie influences that come through the Gate. He has very few people he considers friends, but several allies he can’t completely trust... and a strong, beautiful woman who is the current incarnation of the princess he loved when he was Georgius.

Richard A. Knaack’s historical urban fantasy series delves into the history of Chicago and provides a different spin. In Read More

Skyborn: Fun MG series comes to a satisfying end

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Skyborn by Lou Anders

Lou Anders concludes his THRONES & BONES trilogy for middle graders with Skyborn, which follows Frostborn and Nightborn.

Skyborn begins as our three young heroes have just lost one of the Horns of Osius which are able to control wyverns and dragons. To free these creatures from the empire that controls them, they must travel to Thica to find and destroy the horn.

Our heroes couldn’t be more different from each other. Karn is the human son of a w... Read More