4.5

Click on stars to FIND REVIEWS BY RATING:
Recommended:
Not Recommended:

The Empty Ones: We laughed, we cringed, we kept turning pages

Readers’ average rating:

The Empty Ones by Robert Brockway

The Empty Ones (2016) is suspenseful, scary, action-packed and occasionally gross. This is the second book in Robert Brockway’s THE VICIOUS CIRCUIT series, following 2015’s The Unnoticeables. The Empty Ones crackles with tension, and I found that several of the questions that plagued me at the end of Book One are answered here. By the end of this one, I am even more worried about young stuntwoman Kaitlyn than I was before.

The Empty Ones picks up the 2013 storyline just shortly after The Unnoticeables ended. Kaitlyn, her fr... Read More

The Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman & J.H. Williams III

Readers’ average rating: Comment Reviews for this post are disabled. Please enable it first

Editor's note: Won the 2016 Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story

Reposting to include Stuart's new review:

The Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman & J.H. Williams III

Most monthly comics come out, well, monthly, but DC decided to drag out The Sandman: Overture and release it every other month, and that seemed reasonable given how long it takes for J. H. Williams III to create his exquisite artwork. However, the comic ended up taking a full year longer than announced — from October 2013 to October 2015. After the first three issues, I quit rea... Read More

The Sunlight Pilgrims: Chills to the bone

Readers’ average rating:

The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan

The premise of Jenni Fagan’s 2016 novel, The Sunlight Pilgrims, is entirely plausible: in the not-so-far-off future of November 2020, winter has descended upon the globe, the Gulf Stream is both slowing and cooling, a gigantic iceberg is making its way from Norway to Scotland, and the Thames is overflowing from the extra water created by melting polar ice caps. Rather than focus on climatologists or environmental and economic protestors, however, Fagan presents three average people and the ways their lives intertwine and change as they try to survive the worst winter on record.

Until recently, Dylan McRae lived in a Soho art-house movie theatre with his mother and grandmother, distilling homemade gin and sharing the joys of classic cinema with their dwindling patrons. Both women have died, unfortunately, and... Read More

Poisoned Blade: Will Efea rise?

Readers’ average rating:

Poisoned Blade by Kate Elliott

Warning: may contain mild spoilers for the previous book, Court of Fives

In Poisoned Blade, the second novel in her COURT OF FIVES trilogy, Kate Elliott builds on the strengths of Court of Fives and expands upon it, weaving tangled webs of intrigue, deceit, and impressively multi-layered political schemes. Anyone who thinks Young Adult fiction can’t successfully handle themes like a culture’s endurance in defiance of colonialism, the myriad socio-economic factors leading toward revolution, or racial and/or gender inequality, needs to read these books: Elliott covers these issues and much more while cr... Read More

Girl in the Shadows: Pick a card, any card

Readers’ average rating:

Girl in the Shadows by Gwenda Bond

Gwenda Bond has a real gift for writing believable, interesting teenaged protagonists, and puts that gift to use in Girl in the Shadows (2016), the second installment in her CIRQUE AMERICAN series and a companion to the first novel, Girl on a Wire. Though not a true sequel, many primary characters from Girl on a Wire return as supporting characters in Girl in the Shadows, and key events from the first book have a definite effect on the second. While it’s not necessary to read them in order, enough hints are dropped regarding previous mysterious and tragic events that new readers are sure to be interested in the entire series.

Moira Mitchell wa... Read More

Four Roads Cross: Gladstone’s books get deeper but don’t skimp on the fun

Readers’ average rating: Comment Reviews for this post are disabled. Please enable it first

Four Roads Cross by Max Gladstone

I can’t describe how much fun it was to be back with Tara Abernathy in Alt Coulumb in Four Roads Cross, Max Gladstone’s fifth book in the CRAFT SEQUENCE. In Tara’s world, a year has passed since Three Parts Dead, and Tara has been working hard in the city of the god Kos the Ever-burning. Now, a new threat, aimed at the nascent goddess Seril, the Lady of the Skies, emerges, forcing Tara to take even greater risks, and making her friends question nearly everything about their lives in the city.

Seril was believed to have been killed during the God Wars. Among the citizens of Alt Coulumb she is a fearsome myth, a mad god used t... Read More

Dark Matter: The yellow wood contains more than just those two roads

Readers’ average rating: 

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Dark Matter (2016) is a tense science fiction thriller that was nearly unputdownable. It sucked me in almost immediately and didn't spit me out again until I was on the other side of about a four hour reading marathon.

Jason Dessen is a brilliant physicist who in some respects has "settled." Fifteen years ago, on the cusp of a scientific breakthrough in quantum mechanics, his girlfriend Daniela, a gifted artist, unexpectedly told him that she was pregnant. After an internal struggle, Jason proposed to her. Their son Charlie was born prematurely, weighing less than two pounds, and required expensive medical treatment. Between that and Daniela’s crippling postpartum depression, Jason was unable to spend enough time on his research, lost his funding and career momentum, and dropped off the fast track to scientific recognition. He now ... Read More

Icon: A tense fashionpunk political thriller

Readers’ average rating: 

Icon by Genevieve Valentine

I think Genevieve Valentine has invented a new subgenre: the fashionpunk political thriller. So far both books in THE PERSONA SEQUENCE, Persona (2015) and Icon (2016), fit into this fashion-forward category, where appearance is everything... or at least, so it appears.
… In this light they looked like ghosts or witches, something powerful and untouchable and lovely, even in pencil skirts and jeans and sequin tops and Kipa’s sensible cardigan with the top button of her blouse left undone.
Suyana Sapaki is the Face for a young political jurisdiction called the United Amazon Rainforest Coalition. Faces appear at diplomatic events,... Read More

Sandman (Vol. 8): Worlds’ End by Neil Gaiman

Readers’ average rating: 

Sandman (Vol. 8): Worlds' End by Neil Gaiman

Brief Lives, volume 7 of Sandman, told a single story, a road-trip, about Dream. It was preceded by Fables and Reflections, volume 6, in which nine separate tales were told of varying quality. Volume 8, Worlds’ End, blends the two approaches via Gaiman’s Chaucerian narrative: There are a series of separate stories told in Worlds’ End, but they are unified by a framing device. The framing device is that travellers from different worlds and r... Read More

Cuckoo Song: Weird, scary and utterly unexpected

Readers’ average rating: Comment Reviews for this post are disabled. Please enable it first

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge

As usual, I am late to the party. Published in 2014, Cuckoo Song is Frances Hardinge’s sixth novel. Her debut novel, Fly by Night, won the Branford Boase First Novel Award and her 2015 novel The Lie Tree won the Costa Book Award, (the fi... Read More

The House: Genuinely creepy domestic thriller

Readers’ average rating: Comment Reviews for this post are disabled. Please enable it first

The House by Christina Lauren

Parental figures can be hard to deal with, especially when you’re a teenager. It seems like they’re always yelling at you to study, or to stop going out all the time, or else they’re stalking your significant other, or they’re making doorknobs vanish so that you’re trapped inside your own house as punishment for wanting to move out after you graduate from high school. It’s a rough time, no mistake, and explored to chilling effect in Christina Lauren’s The House.

Delilah Blue, seventeen years old and obsessed with horror movies, has returned to her childhood home after several years at an expensive private school back East. Her wealthy grandmother’s money has been forcibly reallocated to her end-of-life care and her father has lost his ... Read More

Emperor of the Eight Islands: Fascinating and lyrical

Readers’ average rating:

Emperor of the Eight Islands by Lian Hearn

Emperor of the Eight Islands, by Lian Hearn, is the first book in a series of four, called THE TALE OF SHIKANOKO. The books are published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and all four will be issued in 2016 (April, June, August, September). The publisher has used this compressed release schedule before, most notably with Jeff VanderMeer’s AREA X trilogy.

The Emperor of the Eight Islands is not a long book, although quite a bit happens between its covers. We meet the character of Shikanoko, the “deer’s child,” although he has another name when his father dies mysteriously on a scouting trip. ... Read More

Dreams of Distant Shores: Seven fantastical stories

Readers’ average rating:

Reposting to include Jana's new review.

Dreams of Distant Shores by Patricia McKillip

Dreams of Distant Shores is a collection of seven shorter fantasy works ― five short stories and two novellas ― and a non-fictional essay by one of my favorite fantasy authors, Patricia McKillip. Several of these works are reprints of stories originally published elsewhere; “Mer,” “Edith and Henry Go Motoring” and “Alien” are the only ones original to this collection, but since I had never seen any of these stories elsewhere, they were all doorways to new and enchanting worlds for me. This collection, where faeries and other fantastical creatures and beings intersect with commonplace people, sometimes rudely intruding in our world and sometimes luring us into... Read More

Sandman (Vol. 6): Fables and Reflections by Neil Gaiman

Readers’ average rating:

Reposting to include Stuart's new review

Sandman (Vol. 6): Fables and Reflections by Neil Gaiman

Sandman: Fables and Reflections is a collection of nine separate stories that originally appeared in two separate groups plus an introductory short story and a lengthy Sandman Special about Orpheus and Eurydice. Basically, this collection is one of the most far-ranging and eclectic volumes available in the Sandman trade editions. The first grouping of stories about various emperors across time includes “Thermidor,” “August,” “Three Septembers and a January,” and “Ramadan” (Issu... Read More

When Worlds Collide: More than mere spectacle

Readers’ average rating:

When Worlds Collide by Philip Wylie & Edwin Balmer

To look at the astronomical statistics, you would think that planet Earth is a sitting duck. In our teensy immediate neighborhood of the galaxy alone, there are over 14,000 asteroids zipping about, not to mention over 100 near-Earth comets. Asteroids of over one kilometer in diameter have hit the Earth, it is approximated, twice every million years during the planet’s history; those of five kilometers, every 20 million years. Every 2,000 years, it has been said, a chunk of space matter collides with or explodes over the Earth causing a 10-megaton blast, such as the one (size unknown) that fell over Siberia on June 30, 1908 – the so-called Tunguska event – which flattened almost 800 square miles of forest. And these are all relatively small pieces of whizzing space rock, mind you; comparative pebbles. What if another PLANET were to bring good o... Read More

Sandman (Vol. 5): A Game of You by Neil Gaiman

Readers’ average rating: Comment Reviews for this post are disabled. Please enable it first

Reposting to include Stuart's new review:

Sandman (Vol. 5): A Game of You by Neil Gaiman

One of the key points of A Game of You is that nobody is a stereotype, and nobody is what he or she seems on the surface, once you get to know the person. Every single one of us has glorious, weird, majestic, stupid, magical worlds inside us.*   –Neil Gaiman

Sandman (Vol. 5): A Game of You collects issues 32 through 37, skipping issues 29-31, which are collected in volume six of The Sandman. A Gam... Read More

The Salt Roads: Complex and rewarding

Readers’ average rating:

The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson 

Time does not flow for me. Not for me the progression in a straight line from earliest to latest. Time eddies. I am now then, now there, sometimes simultaneously.

Nalo Hopkinson published The Salt Roads in 2003. Originally the book was marketed as historical fiction, and sometimes as magical realism, if those categories matter. The concrete nature of the world-building and the attention to detail, especially in the sections set on the island of St. Domingue, make the book more grounded than you might expect in a story where, to all intents and purposes, a god is the main character. Somewhat ironically, the St. Domingue sections also contain most of the “fantastical” events.

Lasiren, or Ezili,... Read More

Saint’s Blood: Another great romp mixing humor and grief

Readers’ average rating:

Saint’s Blood
by Sebastien de Castell

Saint’s Blood is the third in Sebastien de Castell’s GREATCOATS series, and as with the previous two (Traitor’s Blade and Knight’s Shadow), it’s both a lot of fun (really, a lot of fun) and deeply emotionally affecting. The series isn’t perfect, but it’s just so enjoyable and engaging that you just don’t mind the few flaws, and that continues with Saint’s Blood, which resolves its major story arc but also points at the very end to a fourth book. And I have no complaints about that a... Read More

Dancer’s Lament: A prequel the way it should be done

Readers’ average rating:

Dancer’s Lament by Ian Cameron Esslemont

Prequels can be tricky things for authors. One obvious obstacle is that being a prequel, the story is robbed of at least some of its natural narrative tension, as readers already know that this or that character will not die, that this or that battle will not be won. Authors also run the risk of having painted themselves into narrative corners via the original work — this character has to do A to end up at C, this thingamabob has to appear because it’s the signature thingamabob of Character X and so on. In weaker prequels, it all feels very mechanical, as if the author just traced the lines backward and dutifully filled in the obvious and necessary plot points, character appearances, and portentous arrivals of requisite talismans. Even the author who successfully navigates all the prequel pitfalls can end up losing, à la an army of irate fans com... Read More

The Spider’s War: Brings a great series to a more-than-satisfactory close

Readers’ average rating:

The Spider’s War by Daniel Abraham

I thought Daniel Abraham was one of the best writers working in the craft when I first read A Shadow in Summer nearly ten years ago, and the rest of that series, THE LONG PRICE QUARTET did nothing to dissuade me of that first impression. Nor has what followed over the years, which includes the ongoing EXPANSE science fiction series (co-written with Ty Franck) and the fantasy series, THE DAGGER AND THE COIN, which wrapped up this spring with The Spider’s War, bringing to an end another great series in unsurprisingly excellent fashion. I’m going to assume you have already read the previous books and so won’t bother recapping/explaining previous events or characters.

The Spider’s War picks up s... Read More

Injustice: Gods Among Us (Year One, Volume One) by Tom Taylor

Readers’ average rating:

Injustice: Gods Among Us (Year One, Volume One) by Tom Taylor

DC often puts out comic books that are connected to their video games, and I generally ignore them because 1. I don’t play video games because they give me migraines and 2. Most video game-related comics are just not that good. However, I started hearing a lot of good things about Tom Taylor’s Injustice: Gods Among Us, so I gave it a chance. It turns out, all that was said about Injustice is true, and apparently, it just keeps getting better after this first volume. So far, they’ve put out seven trade collections of Injustice: Year One (Volumes One and... Read More

Unearthly Neighbors: A hugely satisfying novel of first contact

Readers’ average rating:

Unearthly Neighbors by Chad Oliver

The conventional wisdom for aspiring writers has long been “Write what you know,” a piece of advice that Cincinnati-born author Chad Oliver apparently took to heart. Greatly interested in the field of anthropology, Oliver, over the course of seven novels stretching from 1952 - ’76, as well as four collections of short stories, eventually carved out a place for himself as one of the leading lights in that curious subgenre known as anthropological science fiction. And the author was hardly a dabbler in his chosen scholarly field. In 1961, he wrote a doctoral thesis (under his real name, Symmes Chadwick Oliver) entitled Ecology and Cultural Continuity as Contributing Factors in the Social Organization of the Plains Indians (you can purchase it in book form on Amazon, if that title doesn’t intimi... Read More

A Plague of Demons: The dogs of war

Readers’ average rating:

A Plague of Demons by Keith Laumer

Though little discussed today, back in the 1960s, Syracuse, N.Y.-born Keith Laumer was a hugely popular sci-fi author, largely by dint of his series featuring interstellar ambassador/mediator Jaime Retief, a series that began in ’63 and ultimately comprised some 18 novels and books of short stories. Somehow, I managed to miss the entire Retief bandwagon back when, and only recently realized that I still had not read a single Laumer book from any of his major series — the Retief series was just one of many — or even any of his stand-alone books. On a whim, I selected his 1965 offering A Plague of Demons, which was released as the author turned 40; a stand-alone novel that The Science Fiction Encyclopedia deems the best of his “taut, extremely efficient sf thrillers,” and one that Scottish cr... Read More

The Firework-Maker’s Daughter: Another wonderful tale for children

Readers’ average rating:

The Firework-Maker’s Daughter by Philip Pullman

The Firework-Maker’s Daughter is a short children’s book written by Phillip Pullman and it’s a little gem. Pullman pulls off a perfect recipe of magic, adventure and pure fun in this sparkling little fairy tale.

Lila is the daughter of the talented firework maker Lachland. All Lila wants is to become a true firework maker herself, but to do so she must make the perilous journey to the fire-fiend Razvani and bring back some Royal Sulphur. What’s worse, she sets off before her father can tell her the one thing she’ll need to survive Razvani’s flames. Luckily Lila has good friends in the form of Hamlet, the talking white elephant, and his special minder Chaluk, who follow Lila in hot pursuit, bumping into goddes... Read More

Too Like the Lightning: An ambitious speculative novel

Readers’ average rating:

Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer

Ada Palmer’s debut novel, Too Like the Lightning, is an absorbing, exhausting, and complicated work of science fiction literature. This is not the kind of book you can read in bits and pieces and quickly pick up the plot threads after watching a couple of nights of TV. Once you jump in, it’s best you stay focused, allow her world to wash over you and trust that Palmer’s taking you a worthwhile ride.

It’s the 25th century, the church wars are long over, and society is in relative balance. We’re reading the government-edited recounting of something of political, cultural, and pan-global significance. The narrative of Mycroft Canner is largely first-hand, but some elements are witnessed through trackers that allow him to see and hear events through a device attached to individuals. And some ev... Read More