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The Greatest Adventure: Dinosaurs and dynamite

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The Greatest Adventure by John Taine

In the 1957 Universal film The Land Unknown, a quartet of men and one woman discover a tropical wonderhell 3,000 feet below sea level in the frozen wastes of Antarctica, replete with killer plants and savage dinosaurs. But, as it turns out, this was not the first time that four men and one woman had battled prehistoric monsters and inimical flora in a surprisingly balmy valley on the frozen continent. That honor, it would seem, goes to a book called, fittingly enough, The Greatest Adventure, written by John Taine. In actuality, “John Taine” was the pen name of Scottish mathematician Eric Temple Bell, who used his own name only when he authored books on science and math, reserving the pseudonym for when he wrote works of science fiction, of ... Read More

Shattered Warrior: Tale’s too familiar but artwork shines

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Shattered Warrior written by Sharon Shinn &  illustrated by Molly Knox Ostertag

Shattered Warrior (2017) is a new graphic novel written by Sharon Shinn and illustrated by Molly Knox Ostertag. The artwork is excellent, but as far as plot, it’s an overly familiar one and, as usual for me with graphic novels (fair warning), neither story nor characters are rich enough for my deep engagement.

The story is set on a human world conquered years ago by an alien race (the Derichet) and mostly wholly subjugated, though there a rebel group known as the Valenchi sabotages the occasional convoy or bridge. The planet’s main mineral is used to fuel the Derichet spacecraft. The main character, Colleen, was once the daughter of one of the Great Families (rich aristocrats in a highly strati... Read More

Joe Golem: Occult Detective by Mike Mignola & Christopher Golden

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Joe Golem: Occult Detective by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden blends the private eye genre with the golem legend and takes place in a future world in which part of New York is under water and people get around by boats, makeshift bridges, and unstable-looking planks. This first Joe Golem trade includes two stories — one three issues long and the other two issues. However, they are connected as Joe meets a young woman in the first story (Lori Noonan), and we see her again in the second, and Joe’s character develops from one tale to the next. The Joe Golem stories spin out of an illustrated novel by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden entitled Joe Golem and the Drowning City; h... Read More

Strange Alchemy: Working out the kinks

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Strange Alchemy by Gwenda Bond

Strange Alchemy (2017) has the unusual distinction of being Gwenda Bond’s first and latest published novel — originally released in 2012 as Blackwood by Strange Chemistry, indie publisher Angry Robot’s YA imprint, this novel is one of many to find new life elsewhere after Strange Chemistry’s brief tenure. For readers who, like myself, are reading Strange Alchemy after already becoming familiar with Bond’s style, this novel is an interesting look at where her career started, with glimpses of the characterizations and themes she’s frequently implemented in subsequent books like Girl in the Shadows... Read More

Dinosaur Empire: Earth Before Us Volume 1: Dinosaur evolution for kids

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Dinosaur Empire: Earth Before Us Volume 1 by Abby Howard

Dinosaur Empire is a dense, fact-filled graphic exploration of the rise and fall of dinosaurs that conveys a lot of information for readers in the MG and YA range, though it could use a bit more spark in its storytelling.

Ronnie has just failed her test on dinosaurs horribly, though she has a chance to retake it the next day. Resigned to failing it yet again, and wondering “Who needs to learn about dinosaurs anyway,” she tosses her test into a nearby recycling bin. Lucky for her, a neighbor, Miss Lernin, happens to be hanging out inside the bin. Even better, the bin is a time machine and Miss Lernin is a former paleontologist, who after a quick lesson in general evolution theory quickly whisks Ronnie away to the Mesozoic Era to show her firsthand all she needs to know (and more) for tomorrow’s test. Read More

Bannerless: A thoughtful detective story in a post-apocalyptic world

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Reposting to include Jana's new review.

Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn

In Bannerless (2017), Carrie Vaughn ― perhaps best known for her KITTY NORVILLE urban fantasy series inhabited by werewolves and vampires ― has created a reflective, deliberately paced post-apocalyptic tale with some detective fiction mixed in. It's about a hundred years in our world’s future and after an event simply called the Fall, when civilization collapsed worldwide. The cities are now ruins, abandoned by all but the most desperate people. Climate change has resulted in, among other things, deadly typhoons that periodically hit the California coast, the setting for our story. What's left of humanity is living a far simpler lifestyle than most of their twentieth centur... Read More

Amatka: Defies conventions, with mixed results

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Reposting to include Bill's new review.
Amatka by Karin Tidbeck

Karin Tidbeck’s Amatka (2017) almost reads as a callback to the experimental and dystopian science fiction of the 1970s: a slim novel, packed with examination of the self as an individual unit within a larger social machine and the cost-benefit analysis thereof, with strange imagery and twisting narrative threads, and no easy answers to be found. Once, generations back, a group of people mysteriously found themselves in a new place, and were unable to make their way back home. They formed five colonies (though there ... Read More

Killing is My Business: An improvement on the first book but still has issues (and a giveaway!)

Readers, we have a paperback copy of Made to Kill and a hardcover copy of Killing is My Business to give away to one lucky commenter! U.S. and Canada-based mailing addresses only, please.

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Killing is My Business by Adam Christopher

I thought that the flaws in Adam Christopher’s first Chandler-esque robot PI novel, Made to Kill, outweighed the positives, and thus gave it a rating of only 2 ½ stars. The tougher-than-steel detective/hitman Raymond Electromatic is back in the sequel, Killing Is My Business (2017), and while it improves upon its predecessor in many ways, it never really breaks out of the gat... Read More

Graveyard Shift: Unusual protagonist brings new life to urban fantasy/horror tropes

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Graveyard Shift by Michael F. Haspil

With Graveyard Shift (2017), Michael F. Haspil’s debut novel, readers who enjoy a fair amount of horror and blood mixed into their urban fantasy are in for a rare treat: the primary protagonist is a reanimated mummy, though he’s certainly no bandage-wrapped, shambling thing. Rather, he’s a sophisticated and smooth-talking detective in the sun-drenched Miami-Dade metro area, and he takes protecting his city very seriously.

As Menkaure, he once strode along the banks of the mighty Nile, bending the backs of others to his will as easily as one bends a reed, before his eventual death and mummification. Much later, reanimated and rechristened Alex Romer, he slew vampires for the ultra-secret agency known as UMBRA; now, he walks the streets of Miami-Dade as part of the Nocturn Affairs unit, keeping the city safe from supernatu... Read More

A Ghostly Light: Changes are coming

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A Ghostly Light by Juliet Blackwell

A Ghostly Light is seventh book in Juliet Blackwell’s HAUNTED HOME RENOVATION MYSTERIES series. Like her WITCHCRAFT MYSTERIES series, each of these novels is a solid cozy paranormal mystery featuring pleasant characters and an enjoyable San Francisco setting. Fans of either series who don’t care that the books follow a formula should be pleased with A Ghostly Light.

This time Mel is renovating a lighthouse on an Island in San Francisco Bay, though she’s having some trouble due to her newly acquired fear of heights. When a murder occurs, Mel’s friend Alicia is charged and taken into custody. To exonerate Alicia, Mel must find the real killer. She’ll do this with so... Read More

Spellslinger: Lots of spells, lots of slinging

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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 class-mates 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 ... Read More

The Witchwood Crown: A much-anticipated return to a classic world

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The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams

Tad Williams’ long-awaited return to Osten Ard began with the tasty appetizer that was The Heart of What Was Lost, a bridge novella between the old series and the new. Now the first course of the main feast is here — The Witchwood Crown (2017) — and to be honest, I sort of want to order more appetizer.

Before I get into my reasons for being underwhelmed by The Witchwood Crown, I want to offer up a few caveats. The first is a matter of logistics. It’s rare for me to spend more than two sittings with a book; I greatly prefer fully immersing myself in a story for its entirety, reading start to finish in one go or, if necessary due to length, two at most. But due to circumstances, I couldn... Read More

A Kiss Before Doomsday: Crystals, demonic cars, the undead and 70s Disco-wear; this one’s got it all

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A Kiss Before Doomsday by Laurence MacNaughton

Laurence MacNaughton is back with the second installment of his urban fantasy DRU JASPER series. This one, A Kiss Before Doomsday (2017), takes place shortly after the first book ended. Dru, a crystal witch working in Denver, Colorado, believes the love of her life, the demonically possessed Grayson, died helping her escape from the netherworld, but we know Grayson is alive and at risk. He’s been abducted by the undead, and faces a terrible fate, as does the world, if Dru cannot find him and can’t stop the remaining two seals from opening and ushering in Doomsday.

Like It Happened One Doomsday... Read More

Soleri: Unoriginal but engaging, potential marred by execution

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Soleri by Michael Johnston

Soleri (2017), by Michael Johnston, isn’t going to make anyone marvel at its originality, which in and of itself isn’t necessarily a problem. I’ve said many a time that with genre books, often one can get away with employing standard tropes in terms of characters and plots so long as the craft and execution is there. Unfortunately, Johnston doesn’t quite succeed with either, and so despite having some potential, it’s hard to recommend Soleri at this point, especially given that the story ends wholly unresolved.

The setting is the sprawling and ancient Soleri Empire, which has kept its four subjugated kingdoms mostly under control for over 2000 years, though there has been an occasional revolt now and then. One of the ways the Empire keeps its kingdoms submissive is by taking the king... Read More

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