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Bitter Greens: Gorgeous historical novel blended with fairytale

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth is a marvelous re-telling of Rapunzel, woven together with historical fiction that gives the reader a glimpse into the life of Charlotte Rose de Caumont de La Force, the French noblewoman who first published the fairy tale. Forsyth, pursuing her doctorate in fairy-tale retellings in Sydney, originally published in this novel in her native Australia. It has just been released in the US.

Bitter Greens begins with the story of Charlotte, exiled from the court of Louis XIV, the Sun King, and locked in a nunnery. Through her narrative, we learn that she was a vivacious courtier whose passion and wit would not be contained. Early in the novel, her mother tells the young Charlotte that she could have been a troubadour; instead, as an adult, she has left scandal in her wake and written some saucy stories that h... Read More

A Monster Calls: A deeply moving tale about the reality of death

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Conor O’Malley is a thirteen-year-old boy living in modern England. Conor is haunted on a nightly basis by a terrible nightmare in which he wakes up bathed in sweat, shaking with fear. A night comes where he has a different nightmare, and a yew tree in his yard comes alive, calling his name. Conor is actually relieved that the terrifying nightmare has been replaced, but he’s also annoyed that this not-so-scary monster is just that —not scary. The monster wants to tell Conor three stories, with a fourth that Conor tells, which the monster dubs “the truth”.

Conor’s mother is dying of cancer, and his world is turned upside down with change. As a result, he gets unwanted attention at school, whether it comes in the form of comfort from teachers or from bullying by kids who are too young to know better.

A Monster Calls Read More

City of Stairs: Shara and Sigrud are my two new favorite heroes

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

City of Stairs is a glorious, mind-bending mash-up; part second-world fantasy, part political thriller and part murder mystery. Shara Thivani and her “secretary” Sigrud are my two new favorite action heroes.

Robert Jackson Bennett once again, has taken a conventional sub-genre and made it original, creating an experience that reads like an actual sociological thriller set in another, magical world.

Shara Thivani is a junior ambassador from the Saypuri islands – at least, that is her cover. She comes to Bulikov, the City of Stairs, on the Continent, to investigate the murder of Saypuri citizen and her friend, Professor Pangyui, who was found beaten to death in his office in the Bulikov University.

Relations between the Continentals and the Saypuri are… well, tense. For millennia, the Continentals, aided by myste... Read More

Locke and Key: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

Locke and Key: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill (author) & Gabriel Rodriguez (artist)

Psst. Hey, you. Yeah, you. You wanna see something really scary? Here. It’s the first volume of Joe Hill’s horror comic Locke and Key: Welcome to Lovecraft, the trade collection of the first six chapters in this story. The art is done by Gabriel Rodriguez. The volume is beautifully drawn, emotionally authentic and downright scary.

In the opening pages, a deranged student, Sam Lesser, savagely murders high school guidance counselor Rendell Locke. Only the quick thinking of Rendell’s children, Tyler, Kinsey and Bode, and their mother Nina’s ferocity, save them f... Read More

Act One: A Thought-provoking and moving story

Act One by Nancy Kress

Ever since reading Kress' wonderful collection Nano Comes to Clifford Falls and Other Stories I've been keeping an eye out for her short fiction. A number of her short works won Nebulas and Hugos, the most recent was a Hugo in 2009 for her novella The Erdmann Nexus, which unfortunately I haven' t read yet. The novella Act One was nominated for the Hugo, Locus and Nebula award but won none of them. It was originally published in Asimov's in 2009. As usual, it is a thought-provoking and moving story.

I always have trouble reviewing shorter works without giving too much of the story away. The text below is a bit spoilerish.

Barry Tenler is the manager of the ageing, and in recent years none too successful, actress Jane Snow. Still, there is a new opportunity waiting and Barry believes this role will do Jane's c... Read More

Cibola Burn: This series is one of the best things going now

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 all the characters making it to the end? check
... Read More

The Ship of Ishtar: A fantasy for the ages

The Ship of Ishtar by Abraham Merritt

The Ship of Ishtar, one of Abraham Merritt's finest fantasies, first appeared in the pages of Argosy magazine in 1924. An altered version appeared in book form in 1926, and the world finally received the original work in book form in 1949, six years after Merritt's death.

In this wonderful novel we meet John Kenton, an American archaeologist who has just come into possession of a miniature crystal ship recently excavated "from the sand shrouds of ages-dead Babylon." Before too long, Kenton is whisked onto the actual ship, of which his relic is just a symbol. It turns out that the ship is sailing the seas of an otherdimensional limboland, and manned by the evil followers of the Babylonian god of the dead, Nergal, and by the priestesses of the Babylonian fertility goddess, Ishtar. A f... Read More

Cleopatra In Space: Target Practice by Mike Maihack

Cleopatra In Space (Book 1): Target Practice by Mike Maihack

If you've read the excellent Zita books and are looking for a similar title, Cleopatra in Space: Target Practice is the graphic novel you're looking for. Just like Zita, Cleopatra is a young, independent, intelligent girl who, though stuck in space, manages to enjoy the adventures that fate has set before her. Cleopatra is a fifteen-year-old girl in Ancient Egypt who goes exploring with her friend, a boy named Gozi. They find a tomb, and in a reversal of classic adventure books, the girl is the brave one who goes in first and finds the one particular... Read More

Red Rising: Will probably be on my top ten list this year

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

In Pierce Brown’s debut novel, Red Rising, humanity lives in a strictly hierarchical society, with the various castes marked by colors: Golds at the top, Reds at the bottom, Pinks for pleasure, Yellows for bureaucrats, etc. Darrow, a young Red, who mines beneath the surface of Mars for Helium-3, has always accepted the hierarchy as it has been drummed into him, until events cause him to see things differently. Eventually, he is set on a path whereby he will seek to undermine the Golds’ power and spark a revolution of Reds. If, that is, he can stay true to himself and his mission even as he infiltrates the Gold society. Because of the many twists in the novel, that pretty much all I’m going to say about plot.

Usually I like to start with the positives of a novel. But despite the fact that I’m pretty sure Red Rising will end up in... Read More

The Magician’s Land: Read this trilogy

The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman

I didn’t immediately fall for Lev Grossman’s MAGICIANS trilogy. The first book, The Magicians, I thought had a lot of potential, was smartly written and was doing interesting things with the fantasy genre, but its problems in pacing and balance were a distraction, and, I confess, my frequent dislike for the main character Quentin Coldwater, also kept me from fully embracing the novel. Those problems disappeared in the follow-up, The Magician King, which I listed in my top ten fantasies of that year. Now Grossman is out with the final volume — The Magician’s Land. I don’t know if it is as strong as The Magician King, but if not, the difference is slight. Even better, The Magician’s Land not only satisfactorily concludes the story, but in... Read More

The Widow’s House: A consistently excellent series

The Widow’s House by Daniel Abraham

I have to hand it to Daniel Abraham; the guy takes some risks. In his first series, the absolutely masterful LONG PRICE QUARTET (read it if you haven’t), he had metaphor as the central conceit — a bit subtle and certainly less flashy than what most probably expect in a fantasy series. In his current series, THE DAGGER AND THE COIN, he makes banking one of the core action threads. Yes, I said banking. And yes, I said action. In fact, in the latest book, The Widow’s House, banking is perhaps THE pivot point of the story. I don’t how he does it, but not many authors, perhaps none, can, as he has done, have one banker explain to another banker what is basically the creation of a paper monetary system and have the reader thrill at the possibility of what that means to the plot. Yes, I said thrill.

Of course, Abraham doesn’t rely ... Read More

A Boy and A Girl by Jamie S. Rich

A Boy and A Girl by Jamie S. Rich (writer) and Natalie Nourigat (artist)

I was certainly surprised by this story. I’d seen it on Comixology before, but I'd passed it up. However, I decided to give it a chance after reading Natalie Nourigat's wonderful comic book Between the Gears, a coming-of-age autobiography about her senior year at the University of Oregon. I knew I liked her art, and just for that reason alone, I enjoyed A Boy and A Girl. It has the same style, with a touch of futurism, but Nourigat's main strength is on show here again: She has the ability to draw the same characters again and again an... Read More

Rogues: A diverse and satisfying collection

Rogues edited by George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois

Rogues, a short-story anthology by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, is a marvelously diverse collection of stories and genres, tied together by those scoundrels, those tricksters, those rascals, those rogues that you can't help but love. I listened to it on audiobook and loved the experience, especially because a few of the readers were actors from Game of Thrones.

When I picked this up, I was most excited to hear two stories in particular: "How the Marquis Got His Coat Back," by Neil Gaiman, and "The Lightning Tree," by Pat... Read More

The Humanoids: A great novel

The Humanoids by Jack Williamson

The late 1940s was a period of remarkable creativity for future sci-fi Grand Master Jack Williamson. July '47 saw the release of his much-acclaimed short story "With Folded Hands" in the pages of Astounding Science-Fiction, followed by the tale's two-part serialized sequel, And Searching Mind, in that influential magazine's March and April 1948 issues. Darker Than You Think, Williamson's great sci-fi/fantasy/horror hybrid, was released later in 1948, and 1949 saw the publication of And Searching Mind in hardcover form, and retitled The Humanoids. "With Folded Hands" had been a perfect(ly downbeat) short story that introduced us to the Humanoids, sleek black robots invented by a technician named Sledge on planet Wing IV. The ro... Read More

Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone: A fascinating pilgrimage

Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone by Ian McDonald

Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone is a fascinating short novel by Ian McDonald. At the beginning of the story we meet Ethan Ring, who’s feeling conspicuously tall and red-headed as he chants in a Buddhist temple. Ethan and his friend, a famous Japanese manga artist, are on a bicycle pilgrimage in Japan. Neither of them knows what kind of demons the other is struggling with, and neither does the reader at first, but as they journey on, their stories come out and even though each man’s tale is different, they realize that both of them are searching for redemption and peace.

Many stories deal with a hero’s search for redemption, but Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone is unique. The setting is a neo-feudal Japan where tech corporations are the fiefdoms and gangs of armed vigilantes threaten citizens’ peace and security. This is jarringly j... Read More

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