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La Belle Sauvage: Our different opinions

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

I always find it a little nerve-wracking when an author returns to a successful series after a long time away. There's always the fear, for me at least, that one of two things is going to happen: either the author will be nostalgic about the original work to the extent that s/he makes the new book into a fawning tribute without substance, or the author will have changed enough in the time between installments that the magic is just gone. I'm happy to say, though, that Philip Pullman's new novel dispels both of those fears. La Belle Sauvage (2017) is, though not quite as much a game-changer as The Golden ... Read More

No Sleep Till Doomsday: This series fires on all cylinders

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No Sleep Till Doomsday by Laurence MacNaughton

No Sleep Till Doomsday (2018), the third installment in Laurence MacNaughton’s DRU JASPER series, delivers all the excitement, action, romance and humor I expect from these books — plus, it brings in a new muscle-car who is an ancient rival of the speed-demon Hellbringer, and I’ve come to love Hellbringer.

Dru is a crystal sorceress in Denver, Colorado, who together with a group of allies is trying to stop the breaking of the seals on the Apocalypse Scroll and the resulting Doomsday. Dru is aided by her demonically possessed boyfriend Greyson, who drives Hellbringer; her friend Rane, who can turn herself into metal or stone; and her non-magical but knowledgeable store employee, Opal. She is somet... Read More

Magic Triumphs: Wrapping up the KATE DANIELS adventures

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Magic Triumphs by Ilona Andrews

Kate Daniels, after nine novels’ worth of fighting magical villains, romancing Curran the Beast Lord, developing her own über-magical powers and preternatural sword-fighting abilities, and magically claiming all of Atlanta as her territory (and that’s only a start), gets an ending to her story in Magic Triumphs (2018), the tenth and final book in Ilona Andrews’ popular KATE DANIELS series. Well, kind of.

Kate is married to Curran now, who’s passed his title as Beast Lord on to Jim. After a very brief prologue in which Kate gives birth, the story jumps forward in time thirteen months, when their son Conlan is a precocious one year old whose antics keep his parents hopping. He still hasn’t started shapesh... Read More

Bloody Rose: An excellent sequel

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Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames

On the face of it, Bloody Rose (2018) is a lot like Kings of the Wyld, the first novel in Nicholas Eames' THE BAND series: it's still following the original's fun premise (i.e. "questing bands are basically just rock bands, complete with touring and groupies"), and it boasts much of the same humor, heart, and hard-rock-cafe sensibility. It also carries on the tradition of being, you know, awfully good. But there are some notable changes lurking under the surface. Bloody Rose is the kind of sequel that tries to go bigger and darker than the first, the Empire Strikes Back to the original's Star Wars. And I'm happy to... Read More

Moon of the Crusted Snow: History repeats itself as the world ends

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Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice

History, legacy, identity, family, and community are all at stake against the backdrop of the modern world coming quietly to an end in Waubgeshig Rice’s slim, but powerful, novel Moon of the Crusted Snow (2018). Survival isn’t just an issue of preparation here — in order for any one person to thrive, the community must be strong; in order for the community to survive, each person must contribute unselfishly. Human nature being what it is, unfortunately, that’s often easier said than done.

As winter draws near, Evan Whitesky and many other members of his small Anishinaabe community are stocking up supplies, food, and firewood. The electricity, television, and phone services the reservation receives from nearby Canadian suppliers aren’t always reliable, so the tribal council places an imperativ... Read More

Alabaster (Volumes I and II): A dark but compelling story

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Alabaster (Volumes I and II) by Osamu Tezuka



Alabaster (Volumes I and II), written by Osamu Tezuka in 1970 and published in 2015 by Digital Manga, Inc., is a dark but compelling story that touches on the evils of which humankind are capable and the resentment and desire for revenge that results in those who are mistreated. Alabaster’s story allows Tezuka to critique bigotry, specifically focusing on racism in the United States. James Block, a young African-American gold-medal winning Olympic athlete, turned into Alabaster because of his experience with the woman he loved as a young man. After a year of dating, James Block proposes to Susan Ross, only to be laughed at, mocked, and turned down by her because he was a black man. She displays shock that he would... Read More

The Euphrates Tree: Deals with serious topics of great importance

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The Euphrates Tree by Osamu Tezuka

The Euphrates Tree is written and drawn by the great Osamu Tezuka, who is known as the “God of Comics.” Tezuka warns us in the postscript not to take this story too seriously; however, I am afraid I will have to go against his advice, because I believe this volume of manga deals with serious topics of great importance. It is about three high school students who visit Jova Island and discover the mysterious Euphrates tree. The tree bears fruit that, if eaten, will give the person or animal great powers and heightened intelligence, but the one aspect of a person that is not changed is their sense of morality.

The three children — Oya, Kama, and Shiko — go to the island for their biology class to study a primitive forest. Tezuka suggests that the island has religious associations for us since at times, he hints that it sha... Read More

Summers at Castle Auburn: A lovely YA romance

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Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn

Summers at Castle Auburn (2001) was my first exposure to Sharon Shinn's fantasies, and it was pretty much insta-love for me (I like to think that Shinn returns my affections in a distant and anonymous fan-appreciation kind of way). It instantly set me off on a search for more of her books.

Corie is the teenaged illegitimate daughter of a nobleman who died before the story begins, but the royal family is still keeping close tabs on her. Most of the time she lives with her grandmother in a remote village, learning medicinal herbs and a bit of witchery from her. But her summers are spent with the royal family in Castle Auburn.

We follow Corie over the next several years as she hangs out with her half-sister Elisandra; Br... Read More

The Silence of the Girls: Powerful retelling of The Iliad from the female perspective

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Reposting to include Ray's new review.

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

Toward the end of Pat Barker’s newest novel, her main character Briseis thinks to herself:

“Yes, the death of young men in battle is a tragedy ... worthy of any number of laments — but theirs is not the worst fate. I looked at Andromache, who’d have to live the rest of her amputated life as a slave, and I thought: We need a new song.

The eloquently powerful The Silence of the Girls (2018) is Barker’s attempt to create just that, and she just about nails it.

Barker’s novel is a re-telling of Homer’s The Iliad, told mostly from the point of view of Briseis, the young girl taken by Achilles as a spoil of war and then later taken from him by Agamemnon as compensation fo... Read More

Dust 8: Examines the wide varieties of human experience

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Dust 8 by Osamu Tezuka

In Dust 8 by Osamu Tezuka, a plane wrecks on a strange island inhabited by peculiar beings. As the plane wrecks, it runs into part of a magical mountain, and bits of rock, or “dust,” land on ten people, bringing them back to life. Eight of these ten people leave the island and are rescued when they are found at sea. The other two stay on the island, and like the other eight, are alive only because they each have one piece of rock on them, as the mysterious creatures on the island explain. The creatures believe that the humans were fated to die, so they take back the rocks from the two survivors, who immediately collapse in death. The leader of the creatures sends off two others mysterious beings, who inhabit the two bodies of the recently perished humans, to retrieve the rocks, the eight pieces of “dust” from the eight survivors who have returned... Read More

Melody of Iron and Other Short Stories: A wonderful work by the “God of Manga”

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Melody of Iron and Other Short Stories by Osamu Tezuka

Osamu Tezuka’s Melody of Iron and Other Short Stories is a wonderful work by the “God of Manga.” It is has been translated beautifully by Adam Seacord and is published by Digital Manga, Inc., a publisher that is doing an excellent job of putting out in translation many of Tezuka’s works that are completely unknown in the United States. This work is one of Tezuka’s mature collections from late in his career. The original collection is from 1974 (Tezuka died in 1989), and this first edition in English came out recently in 2017.

“Melody of Iron,” the first of three stories in the volume, is the main one in terms of length and weighty subject matter. In it, a young man from the U.S. whose family is a part of the mafia in New York, marries a young Japanese woman. Th... Read More

The Black Druid: Part 2 of a classic collection

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The Black Druid by Frank Belknap Long

In my recent review of Frank Belknap Long’s short-story collection The Hounds of Tindalos, I mentioned that when this hardcover volume was initially released by Arkham House in 1946, it contained 21 tales, encompassing the genres of science fiction, fantasy and horror. I also mentioned that most later reprintings of this now classic collection contained only half of those 21 stories, including the 1975 edition that I recently wrote about; the one from the British publishing firm Panther. But later that same year, Panther released the other half of the 1946 classic in a collection entitled The Black Druid, a paperback that I eagerly sought ou... Read More

SAGA Volume One: A brilliant series by Vaughan & Staples

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Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

SAGA Volume One, Issues 1-6 by Brian K. Vaughan (author) & Fiona Staples (illustrator)

Brian K. Vaughan's brilliant new series SAGA is a mixture of fantasy and science fiction, with wonderfully humorous and realistic dialogue between a newlywed couple. But the subject being addressed (and critiqued) is war. It's also incredibly sexually explicit, so I must give my warning to those who either prefer not to have in their heads images of people with television heads having sex or want to keep such images from their kids. (Personally, I find it funny to watch one of the television head characters, a powerful and vicious military official and member of the royalty, struggle with impotence when out of his official attire.)

The premise of the story is that a couple and their new-born child, Hazel, are on the... Read More

Voyage of the Dogs: A book for dog lovers of all ages

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Voyage of the Dogs by Greg van Eekhout

Voyage of the Dogs (2018) by Greg van Eekhout is a middle-grade science fiction book. Young readers will certainly enjoy this action-packed book with dog main characters. Adult dog lovers can enjoy it too.

Lopside is part of a team of “Barkonauts,” specially trained uplifted dogs who are part of the first interstellar space voyage. The Laika is aimed at a planet nicknamed Stepping Stone. Along with the human crew, embryos of cattle and sheep, and fertilized chicken eggs, four dogs comprise the manifest of the ship. As he fulfills his other duties, Lopside searches the starship every day for rats, because he is part terrier. He never finds any, but he is diligent. Lopside feels a little uncomfortable among the other thr... Read More

Blackfish City: The cyberpunk novel I didn’t know I was missing

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Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller 

“People would say she came to Qaanaaq in a skiff towed by a killer whale harnessed to the front like a horse. In these stories, which grew astonishingly elaborate in the days and weeks after her arrival, the polar bear paced beside her on flat bloody deck of the boat. Her face was clenched and angry…”

Blackfish City (2018) is the cyberpunk book I’ve been wanting to read for a while now, without really knowing it. With a strange and wonderful setting, augmented humans, powerful AIs, catastrophically tilted wealth-and-power dynamics, an “information disease,” crazy-wild urban sports and vivid visuals, Sam J. Miller’s novel picks up the old baton of William Gibson and carries it into some twisty, complex post... Read More

The Hounds of Tindalos: Part one of a classic collection

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The Hounds of Tindalos by Frank Belknap Long

In my recent review of C. L. Moore’s Northwest Smith, I mentioned in passing that the author was a member of what has come to be known as the “Lovecraft Circle” — a group of authors who not only regularly corresponded with the “Sage of Providence,” but who were encouraged by Lovecraft himself to write to one another and critique their fellows’ work. Other writers in this loose-knit fraternity included Henry Kuttner (Moore’s future husband and collaborator), Robe... Read More

Hollywood Dead: Stark’s back in L.A, and nothing will be the same again

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Hollywood Dead by Richard Kadrey

“There’s dead and then there’s Hollywood dead and those are two very different things.
Dead is just dead. In the ground. Pennies on your eyes. A cold slab of meat and no slaw and definitely no dessert.
But Hollywood dead? That can be a lot of things. Yeah, you’re still a slab of meat, but now you come with curly fries and hot apple pie.”


James Stark, once known as Sandman Slim, is Hollywood dead when the 2018 book of the same name opens. Specifically, he has been brought back from the dead, but only partially. The tenth SANDMAN SLIM book brings us back from Hell to Los Angeles, but it’s not full circle; it’s a spiral, as it delves deeper into Stark’s death, life and destiny.

(This review may contain mild spoilers for earlier books.)

Eva Sandoval, a leader of the global-co... Read More

The Language of Thorns: Magical folk tales that stir the pot

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The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic by Leigh Bardugo

The Language of Thorns (2017) is a collection of six stories and novelettes by Leigh Bardugo, dark and lyrical folk tales set in her GRISHA universe, in the Russian-inspired country of Ravka and other nearby countries. These are stand-alone stories, unrelated to the specific characters and events in the GRISHA novels. This tales might be told on a dark night by a villager living in Ravka.

Bardugo’s stories, containing elements of both fantasy and horror, include elements of traditional fairy tales like “Hansel and Gretel,” “ Read More

The Woods (Volumes 1-9): A wonderfully bizarre tale

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The Woods (Volumes 1-9) by James Tynion IV is a science fiction coming-of-age story that tells a wonderfully bizarre tale across thirty-six issues (four issues per volume). A school in our world gets transported to another planet or dimension, we’re not sure which. We also do not know who is behind this event or what their reasons are. This comic book series is as much an adventure story as it is coming-of-age, and even though adults — teachers and administration — get transported along with the kids, it is a group of high school students who take the lead, venturing away from the seeming safety of the school out into the unknown of The Woods.

At first, the adults try to take charge, and the initial conflict is between adults and students, but as our main group heads out into the woods, escaping from adult supervision, we get to watch over a period of a few years as these teenagers grow into youn... Read More

The Fall of Gondolin: A welcome addition to Christopher Tolkien’s close looks at his father’s work

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The Fall of Gondolin by Christopher Tolkien

Last year, when Christopher Tolkien published Beren and Lúthien, an exploratory history/retelling of one of his father’s three “great tales” of the First Age, he noted that due to his 93 years of age, “it is (presumptively ) my last book in the long series of editions of my father’s writing.” That parenthetical qualifier turned out to be a good idea, as here we are a year later, and he’s back with The Fall of Gondolin. With this text, along with Beren and Lúthien, and the prior publication of The Children of Húrin, the three great tales have all been published in stand-alone format, and it is... Read More

The Descent of Monsters: Creeping, inexorable dread

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Reposting to included Marion's new review.

The Descent of Monsters by J.Y. Yang

Every page of J.Y. Yang’s newest TENSORATE novella, The Descent of Monsters (2018), carries a pervasive and steadily-increasing sense of dread. But when the primary character announces straight off that “You are reading this because I am dead,” it’s hard not to wonder how and why that comes to pass, and which event will be the one which ends Tensor Chuwan Sariman’s life.

Note: It will help to read The Black Tides of Heaven and The Read Threads of Fortune before beginning The Descent of Monsters Read More

The Equations of Life: How Physics Shapes Evolution

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The Equations of Life: How Physics Shapes Evolution by Charles S. Cockell

Watch any nature show and at some point you’re sure to hear the soft-voiced narrator (usually David Attenborough or someone doing their best Attenborough impersonation) marvel at the “boundless variety” of life, of its seeming infinitude of shapes, colors, forms, and its tenaciousness in colonizing apparently every niche of our planet, no matter how harsh or isolated. Or, as theorist Ian Malcolm puts it in Jurassic Park:
If there is one thing the history of evolution has taught us, it’s that life will not be contained. Life breaks free, it expands to new territories and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously ... Life finds a way.
One takes a risk in arguing with the world’s favorite fictional chaos theorist (OK, admittedly, a minor risk), but that’s ... Read More

Rogue Protocol: Can humans and bots be friends?

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Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells

Martha Wells’ endearingly grumpy cyborg Security Unit Murderbot returns with a vengeance in Rogue Protocol (2018), the third novella in the MURDERBOT DIARIES series. In Rogue Protocol, Murderbot heads off to Milu, a deserted terraforming facility in space, to investigate the past of a murky group called GrayCris, which we originally met in the first book in this series, the Nebula award-winning All Systems Red. GrayCris appears to be intent on illegally collecting the extremely valuable remnants of alien civilizations. To all appearances Milu is an abandoned project of GrayCris, but Murderbot suspects, based on its ... Read More

The Wild Dead: Ups the ante in a satisfying way

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The Wild Dead by Carrie Vaughn

Carrie Vaughn continues the fascinating post-apocalyptic BANNERLESS SAGA in The Wild Dead (2018), the first sequel to her Philip K. Dick Award-winning novel Bannerless. Murders are, thankfully, few and far between along the Coast Road, so it’s been about a year since Enid of Haven has needed to put on her metaphorical deerstalker cap. This time, she and her painfully inexperienced new partner, Teeg, are in the remote southern settlement of Desolata to mediate a dispute over a pre-Fall house: the house’s “owner” refuses to admit that his family’s cherished home is dangerously dilapidated, while it seems that nearly everyone else in Desolat... Read More

Ruin of Angels: Gods, sisterhood and venture capitalism collide

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Reposting to include Bill's new review.

Ruin of Angels by Max Gladstone

Ruin of Angels, published in 2017, is Max Gladstone’s sixth book in the CRAFT series. This story follows Kai, a priestess we met in Full Fathom Five. Kai is a, well, a “venture priestess.” She creates internal spiritual spaces for clients, and invests in projects that reach into the metaphysical — as everything in this world does. A project has brought her to Agdel Lex, a modern city nested in the time and space of Alikand and a dead city as well, while outside the squid-powered protection of Agdel Lex, starving remnants of half-dead gods ravage anyone who tries to enter... Read More