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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

Merchanter’s Luck: An entertaining space opera

Merchanter’s Luck by C.J. Cherryh

Tantor Audio has recently released two of C.J. Cherryh’s ALLIANCE-UNION novels, Merchanter's Luck (1982) and Forty Thousand in Gehenna, together under the title Alliance Space. I’m going to review 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.

In Merchanter’s Luck we meet Sandor, a good-looking, slightly dishonest, 27-year-old merchant with a tragic past who lives on a tiny 150-year old spaceship. Sandor was bor... Read More

The Councillor: Strong writing balances out familiar plotting

The Councillor by E.J. Beaton

E.J. Beaton’s The Councillor (2020) is a political fantasy whose smooth prose carries one smartly if slowly through the well-worn grooves of the genre. And therein one can see both the novel’s strengths and its weaknesses, which together result in a solid if somewhat overly long and overly familiar story.

Lysande Prior — commoner, orphan, and scholar — has risen to become advisor and friend to the warrior Queen Sarelin, who recently put down a nearly-successful attempt by the White Queen to restore elemental magic users (a currently persecuted minority group) to their former ruling position in Elira. When Sarelin is assassinated, though, Lysande finds herself named Councillor, and thus tasked with choosing Elira’s next ruler from amongst the rulers of its four major regions. A job made more complicated by their inherent sense of rivalry, the impendi... Read More

Burning Girls and Other Stories: Great opening, strong close, uneven in between

Burning Girls and Other Stories by Veronica Schanoes

Veronica Schanoes’ collection Burning Girls and Other Stories (2021) started strong, hit a rough patch for a lengthy time, then ended strong. It is, therefore, the epitome of the mixed bag. Of the thirteen tales, I found one to be a standout, two others good, a few solid ones and a number that didn’t do anything for me. I won’t go through each one, but here are my responses to several of the stories.
“Among the Thorns”: This is the opening piece and is also the one I thought stood out amongst the collection. Not only is it a strong opening story, but it’s also a killer opening line and paragraph:

They made my father dance in thorns before they killed him.

I used to think that this was a metaphor, that they beat him with thorny vines, perhaps. But I was wrong about that.

They made him danc... Read More

The Russian Cage: Jailbreak and conspiracies in Russian America

The Russian Cage by Charlaine Harris

Charlaine Harris’s alternative history/urban fantasy GUNNIE ROSE series shifts to a new setting in this third book in the series, The Russian Cage (2021), one that was foreshadowed by the ending of the prior book, A Longer Fall. Lizbeth Rose, who makes her living as a hired gun or “gunnie,” receives an intentionally cryptic letter from her younger half-sister, Felicia. For the past year, Felicia has been living in what once was California, Oregon and Washington but is now the Holy Russian Empire, ruled over by a young, married Tsar Alexei — certainly a better fate for him than his actual historical fate of being assassinated at age thirteen by Soviet revolutionaries. He's surviving his h... Read More

Death Weavers: Finally, some answers

Death Weavers by Brandon Mull

Death Weavers (2016) is the fourth of five novels in Brandon Mull’s FIVE KINGDOMS series. This is a fun adventure that I’d recommend for middle grade readers. You’ll want to read the first three books, Sky Raiders, Rogue Knight, and Crystal Keepers, before picking up Death Weavers. I’ll assume you’ve read them and I may include minor spoilers for those earlier installments in this review.

Cole and his companions continue to visit each of the kingdoms in the Outskirts a... Read More

Fireheart Tiger: The seduction and threat of power

Fireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard

Princess Thanh was a royal hostage for many years in the northern country of Ephteria before being sent back to her home country of Bình Hải. Two years after her return, she’s a disappointment to her mother, the empress, who hoped that Thanh’s time in Ephteria would give her insights into that country’s government and culture, making her more useful as a diplomat. It’s especially important now that an Ephterian delegation is arriving, certain to make demands and threats that will encroach on Bình Hải’s independence. But Thanh is a quiet, somewhat uncertain person — too thoughtful and discreet, according to her mother — rather than a power player. Thanh is also hiding a secret: since a disastrous fire in the Ephterian palace, small items in her vicinity have a mysterious habit of catching on fire. And the only real relationship she had in Ephteria was a clandestine love affair with Princess... Read More

Available Dark: Chills, in more than one sense of the word

Available Dark by Elizabeth Hand

It’s been a few months since the events of Generation Loss, and Cass Neary, strapped for cash, has made a big mistake. In that previous book, she took pictures of someone’s death but told the police she wasn’t at the scene. She never meant to publish any of the photos. Whoops. So, with the police and the dead person’s son asking awkward questions, and Cass in need of money again, it seems like a great time to take a gig that will absent her from the country for a while.

Available Dark (2012) takes Cass to Helsinki, where she is tasked with examining a series of gory photographs and verifying that they are authentic and that the series is complete. The pictures show people killed in ways that evoke a group of spirits called the Yuleboys, and it’s pretty clear that if ... Read More

A Single Light: Exploring a pandemic-ridden world

A Single Light by Tosca Lee

It's unnerving reading a book about a devastating pandemic at this point during the COVID-19 crisis, but in fairness, this near-future SF duology by Tosca Lee was published in 2019, so Lee gets credit for anticipating a timely topic. The first book, The Line Between, tells how Wynter Roth, a young woman in her early twenties, escapes from a doomsday cult and (obligatory spoiler warning for the first book here) is entrusted with some tissue samples that may help with the development of a vaccine against the growing pandemic. It’s a rapid onset dementia virus that is — unsurprisingly, since this is a science fiction novel — almost invariably deadly to those who catch it.

At the end of The Line Between, Wyn... Read More

The Physicians of Vilnoc: Penric and the plague

The Physicians of Vilnoc by Lois McMaster Bujold

The Physicians of Vilnoc (2020) is another installment in Lois McMaster Bujold’s PENRIC AND DESDEMONA series which is set in the same world as her award-winning FIVE GODS / CHALION trilogy. You don’t need to read the CHALION books first, but I highly recommend them. Most of the PENRIC AND DESDEMONA novellas can stand alone, but it’s best to read them in order if you can.

The Physicians of Vilnoc is the eighth story if you go buy publication order but the ninth if you go by internal chronology. The very short installment called Masquerade in Lodi was the latest to be published (as of... Read More

The Left-Handed Booksellers of London: Selling books and fighting evil

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix

1983-era London, with a half-twist toward the fantastic, mingles with ancient British mythology in Garth Nix’s new urban fantasy, The Left-Handed Booksellers of London (2020). Art student Susan Arkshaw, a punkish eighteen-year-old from rural western England, takes leave of her loving, vague mother and heads to London to try to find the father she’s never met. She starts with an old family acquaintance, “Uncle” Frank Thringley, but Frank turn out to be, in rapid succession, (a) a crime boss, (b) disincorporated by the prick of a magical hatpin, and (c) a Sipper — which is a milder type of blood-sucker than a vampire.

The wielder of the silver hatpin is attractive nineteen-year-old Merlin St. Ja... Read More

The Doors of Eden: An intelligent, mind-bending epic

The Doors of Eden by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Girlfriends Mal and Lee are cryptid hunters. They don’t believe in any of the monsters they hunt, of course, but it’s fun to follow the clues and debunk the myths for their blog. But on their last adventure, they saw some weird stuff and Mal disappeared.

That was four years ago. Now, suddenly, Lee runs into Mal on the street in London and she’s with a man who looks like a Neanderthal. Where has she been and why is she with that guy? And why is a world-renowned physicist and an evil villain suddenly so interested in Lee and Mal?

Other humans are also having strange experiences. These include Julian, an MI5 agent stuck in a deteriorating marriage, his colleague Alison who’s really good with data, a retired soldier named Lucas who works for the evil guy, and Dr. Khan, the eccentric but brilliant transgender physicist mentioned above.

As the story proceeds, ... Read More

Across the Green Grass Fields: A weaker entry in a highly praised series

Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire

I’ve been hit and miss on Seanan McGuire’s WAYWARD CHILDREN portal series, finding some of the novellas lyrical and emotional and others frustratingly slapdash. Her newest, Across the Green Grass Fields (2021), unfortunately falls closer to the latter end of the spectrum.

As one expects by now, we have a young girl who steps through a doorway into another world. We meet Regan first at seven, part of a best friends trio with Heather Nelson and Laurel Anderson. Quickly, though, she gets drawn into one of those cruel moments of childhood where demarcations are drawn. When queen bee Laurel arbitrarily shuns Heather, deciding she isn’t “girly” enough, Regan, learning quickly “this is what it costs to be different,” goes along with it. Years... Read More

Over the Woodward Wall: Follow the improbable brick road

Over the Woodward Wall by A. Deborah Baker

Over the Woodward Wall (2020) began its life as an imagined book, existing merely as a set of excerpts “quoted” at the end of certain chapters in Seanan McGuire’s Middlegame. But these excerpts were compelling enough that McGuire decided to use them as the building blocks for an actual fantasy series, using the pseudonym A. Deborah Baker (the alchemist credited with authoring this book in Middlegame).

Avery and Hepzibah (“Zib”) are two “very different, very ordinary” children who live on the same ordinary street but don't know each other at all. They’re as far apart as A and Z in their personalities: Zib is free-spirited and adventurous, ... Read More

The Somebody People: Better than its predecessor

The Somebody People by Bob Proehl

I wasn’t crazy about Bob Proehl’s The Nobody People. While the premise was intriguing (kids with supernatural powers being raised and trained in a boarding school without the public’s knowledge), the novel, for reasons I’ve described in my review, was not compelling. I struggled to finish it but, in the end, I was curious about where Proehl was going with the story. For that reason, I picked up the sequel, The Somebody People, and I’m happy to report that I found this story more entertaining than its predecessor.

Several years have passed since the events of The Nobody People. ... Read More

The Fictional Man: Could have been more

The Fictional Man by Al Ewing

A number of times while reading The Fictional Man, by Al Ewing, I felt like I was on the edge of a great book. Like one of those clichéd oases in any stranded-in-the-desert movie, I could see it glimmering and hazy just at the edge of the horizon. But every time I thought I was nearly there, I was left with just more sand. Though that’s more than a little unfair. The Fictional Man is better than sand, but as tantalizing as it is it never got beyond decent for me.

Ewing sets the story in an LA not too different from our own — still filled with movie stars, sun, diners, loudly rude producers, corrupt agents, etc. What separates this world from our own is the creation of Fictionals in 1977 — clones created by the entertainment industry with the look and pre-programmed personality/mind of characters (already in existence or origin... Read More

The Tower of Fools: Historical fantasy by the author of THE WITCHER

The Tower of Fools by Andrzej Sapkowski

Fans of THE WITCHER will be happy to see that another of Andrzej Sapkowski’s works has been translated into English. The Tower of Fools, the first in his HUSSITE TRILOGY, was published in Polish in 2002 (Polish title: Narrenturm), then other Eastern European languages, and has this year been translated into English by David French (translator of THE WITCHER) and published by Orbit (US) and Gollancz (UK).

The HUSSITE TRILOGY is a historical fantasy set in the time of the Hussite Revolution (the Bohemian Reformation) of the early 15th century. For those not as familiar with these h... Read More

Wonder Women and Bad Girls: Superheroine and Supervillainess Archetypes in Popular Media

Wonder Women and Bad Girls: Superheroine and Supervillainess Archetypes in Popular Media by Valerie Estelle Frankel

Wonder Women and Bad Girls: Superheroine and Supervillainess Archetypes in Popular Media (2020), by Valerie Estelle Frankel, pretty much lays it all out in the title. Starting in the earliest days of comic books and progressing through the decades to the present, Frankel explores a boatload of characters, the famous and expected (Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Black Widow, Storm, Catwoman) and the lesser known and unexpected (Rulah Jungle Goddess, Pow-Girl, Veda the Cobra Woman). The breadth is a definite strength of the book, though I found myself wanting more depth, especially as when it was there it was insightful.

After a brief introduction, Frankel first moves chronologically through “The Classic Super Eras,” discussing Sheena, The Wasp, the Powerpuff Girls, and Captain Marvel, amongst others. Then the sections ar... Read More

Elatsoe: A strong story exploring complex societal issues

Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger

Elatsoe (2020), a YA debut by Darcie Little Badger, creates a richly woven world of folklore, myth, story, friendship, and family, all set in “a slightly stranger America,” one “very similar to our own … [but] shaped dramatically by the magic, monsters, knowledge, and legends of its peoples, those Indigenous and not.” As a debut, it shows some of the typical first-book characteristics (issues with pacing, transitions, etc.), but it’s overall a warmly rewarding and enjoyable read.

Elatsoe — “Ellie” for nearly all the book — is a 17-year-old Lipan Apache girl with the ability to raise ghosts, a skill passed down through generations of her family. Ellie used her gift most recently to raise the ghost of her dead springer spaniel, Kirby, who is now always by her side as companion and protector. While Ellie and her ancestors can raise human ghosts, it is stric... Read More

Involution Ocean: Bruce Sterling’s first novel, now on audio

Involution Ocean by Bruce Sterling

John Newhouse is a middle-aged man addicted to a drug called Flare which is synthesized from the oil of a whale that lives in a large sea of dust on a hostile planet. John lives with several other drug addicts. When Flare is declared illegal and their stash runs dry, John and one of his roommates decide to join a whaling ship’s crew so they can get access to the oil they’ll need to manufacture the drug for themselves. John is hired as the ship’s cook while his friend comes aboard as a deckhand.

The crew of the ship is odd. John is attracted to the woman who has wings like a bat and can fly, but she’s allergic to human touch. The captain of the ship, who is obsessed with the strange creatures that live in the dust sea, might be crazy. John wonders why he’s hiding a propeller and other odd things in a secret storehouse.

When John and his friend manage to get hold of some wh... Read More