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The Secret Life of Wonder Woman: Weirder than I ever could have imagined

The Secret Life of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore

Jill Lepore has reissued The Secret Life of Wonder Woman, her fascinating non-fiction look at the creator of Wonder Woman, with a revised Afterword that includes information from some new sources. The book is part scholarly work, part Wonder Woman archive and part scandal sheet. Non-fiction is usually pretty slow going for me, but I couldn’t put this book down.

Wonder Woman first appeared in 1941, part of All-Star Comics, a subset of Detective Comics, which was later shortened to DC. In her time she was the third most popular superhero, up there with Superman and Batman. She was a feminist icon, a beacon of strength and hope for young girls. She was a cheerleader of the war effort, encouraging women to join the WAACS and WAVES. She was reviled by critics as anti-feminine, fascist and racist. Her creator, William Moulton Marston, was a femin... Read More

Starlight: The Return of Duke McQueen by Mark Millar and Goran Parlov

Starlight: The Return of Duke McQueen by Mark Millar and Goran Parlov

Without a doubt, Starlight: The Return of Duke McQueen is my favorite comic book by Mark Millar. Any fan of pulp science fiction will want to read this book. It is told well, is full of wonder, and is simply delightful. Starlight both invokes and honors older science fiction stories that have as their primary aim the hope of instilling astonishment in readers as they flip quickly through the pages to find out about the hero’s adventures in space. And in Starlight, we take joy in Duke McQueen’s tale, both devouring the pages and never wanting it to end.

The ma... Read More

The Rook: Super-powered chess

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

As Daniel O’Malley’s 2012 supernatural thriller The Rook (book one of THE CHECQUY FILES) begins, Myfanwy Thomas comes to herself with complete amnesia. She's standing in a London park at night. Surrounding her is a ring of motionless bodies. They are all wearing latex gloves.

Myfanwy (“rhymes with Tiffany”) finds two letters in her jacket pocket from her former self:
Dear You, The body you are wearing used to be mine… I’m writing this letter for you to read in the future.
Myfanwy’s former self was aware that in some way her brain was going to be magically wiped of all memories, and did her best to smooth the way for future memory-less Myfanwy by writing a number of letters to herself.
All you need to know immediately is that someone I should be able to trust has decided that I need to be removed. I don’t k... Read More

Tower of Glass: A towering achievement

Tower of Glass by Robert Silverberg

Released in 1970, Tower of Glass was Robert Silverberg's 42nd sci-fi novel ... his 18th since 1967 alone! The amazingly prolific author had embarked on a more mature phase of his writing career in '67, with an emphasis on ideas and a distinct literary quality, and Tower of Glass is yet another superior novel in this remarkable streak. Justifiably nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula awards (but "losing," respectively, to Ursula K. LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness and Larry Niven's Ringworld Read More

The Starmen of Llyrdis: A small but perfect gem from “The Queen of Space Opera”

The Starmen of Llyrdis by Leigh Brackett

For fans of sci-fi’s Golden Age, it has been a sort of literary guessing game to riddle out which stories were written by Henry Kuttner and which by his wife, C.L. Moore. And this has proved to be no easy task, as the two, as legend goes, were so in rapport that one could pick up in mid-paragraph where the other had left off. But for several reasons, no such difficulty could ever be presented by Golden Age stalwart Edmond “The World Wrecker” Hamilton and his wife, “The Queen of Space Opera,” Leigh Brackett. For one thing, their writing styles were so very different that they hardly ever collaborated. Hamilton, who I love, and who was 11 years older than Leigh, ... Read More

The Divine by Boaz Lavie, Asaf Hanuka, and Tomer Hanuka

The Divine by Boaz Lavie, Asaf Hanuka, and Tomer Hanuka

I have been eagerly anticipating The Divine, written by Boaz Lavie, primarily because of the art I’d glimpsed. Artists Asaf Hanuka and Tomer Hanuka have a unique style that made me want to read the book even though I had no idea what it was about. This new book put out by First Second, probably the best publisher of standalone graphic novels, takes a standard plot and makes it unique, not only because of the impressive art, but also because the creators turn a realistic tale into a mythical one.

The Divine is a fast-paced,... Read More

The Sleeper and the Spindle: Another treat from a favourite storyteller

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman's latest offering defies the conventions of your typical fairy tale not just in content but format as well. You won't be able to sit down and read this to your child in one sitting as despite the multiple illustrations, for the story is lengthy and the font small.

Perhaps then it's better described as a fairy tale for adults, though I've always shied away from putting age restrictions on these types of stories. Let's go with calling it an illustrated short story that will be highly enjoyed by people of all ages with an interest in dark and twisted fairy tales.

The Queen of a faraway land is about to be married, at least until the arrival of three dwarfs bringing her news of events in the neighbouring kingdom. A sleeping curse has been laid upon a fair princess, but rather than the spell remaining confined to the castle in which she slumbers, it ... Read More

The Years of Rice and Salt: What if the Black Plague killed the Europeans?

The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson

In The Years of Rice and Salt, Kim Stanley Robinson uses the Black Plague to remove the Europeans, leaving the Old World to the Chinese, Islam, and the many cultural groups that end up in India. The Chinese discover the Americas, their diseases spread through the Native American populations, and their armies plunder the Incans. The novel begins with the Plague, but its vignettes move from one period of history to the next until it reaches the end of the 20th century.

How do you write a novel about one set of characters that spans centuries? Robinson uses reincarnation to cast a set of souls in various times and places as he follows his alternate history. The characters can always be told by the first letter of their names. Bold, a soldier, eventually becomes... Read More

Knight’s Shadow: Great characters enrich this second installment

Knight's Shadow by Sebastien de Castell

I absolutely loved Sebastien de Castell's Traitor's Blade, first in his GREATCOATS series, having been immediately charmed by the utterly winning voice of its first-person narrator Falcio val Mond and its flamboyant Three Musketeers-like tone and narrative. So I was greatly looking forward to its sequel, Knight's Shadow. I'm pleased to say that while I had a few issues, for the most part I was wholly satisfied despite such high expectations.

The sequel picks up pretty much right after the close of Traitor's Blade and continues with the same basic goal: find a way to keep the king's thirteen-year-old heir Aline alive long enough to place her on the throne despite the continued violent oppositi... Read More

Good Omens: The harbinger of the apocalypse is an eleven-year-old boy

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman

The bad news for the world is this: the apocalypse is nigh and all of humanity will soon face their final judgement. The good news? A Bentley-driving demon and an angel who is ‘gayer than a tree full of monkeys on nitrous oxide’ have decided that they rather like humanity and are going to try and save it.

Good Omens is the result of a collaboration between Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, when ‘Neil Gaiman was barely Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett was only just Terry Pratchett.’ The story centres on Crowley, said demon, and the serpent who tempted Eve (originally named Crawly). Throughout history, he has secretly liased with Aziraphale, an antique-loving, rare books... Read More

Jess: An all-but-forgotten winner from H. Rider Haggard

Jess by H. Rider Haggard

Editor's note: Because it's in the public domain, Jess is available free on Kindle.

Jess was first published in the U.K. in March 1887, and was H. Rider Haggard's fifth novel out of 58. Haggard wrote this book toward the end of 1885... and, remarkably, in just nine weeks! But then again, this is the same man who, earlier in 1885, was able to write the astounding sequel to King Solomon's Mines, Allan Quatermain, in just ten weeks, and who, in 1886, wrote the seminal fantasy She in just six! H... Read More

Wylding Hall: “It’s all a bit Wicker Man”

Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand

Elizabeth Hand is one of my favorite writers, prose-wise, and I just love languidly relaxing into her style. I feel like I’m always looking for the same kind of writing in other authors — and having been remiss in reading Hand for the last few years, it was nice to finally enjoy the real thing again with the short novel Wylding Hall. Her prose is actually more spare than usual; it has to be, as the entire story is told in dialogue. Hand makes it work, though, and Wylding Hall is as atmospheric as her earlier works.

The frame story here is a documentary about the folk band Windhollow Faire, who in the early seventies made a brilliant album that was also their downfall. The band had retreated to the crumbling Wylding Hall to record the album and to regrou... Read More

Horrible Monday: The Devil’s Only Friend by Dan Wells

The Devil’s Only Friend by Dan Wells

This review contains spoilers for the first JOHN WAYNE CLEAVER trilogy.

John Wayne Cleaver is a seventeen-year-old boy who wants very, very much to kill people. Lots of them, one right after the other, in terrible, bloody ways. Paradoxically, because he longs to do that, he has been taking extraordinary lengths to avoid becoming a serial killer. His struggles were related in a trilogy consisting of I Am Not A Serial Killer (reviewed here), Mr. Monster (reviewed here), and I Don’t Want to Kill You (reviewed here). That trilogy showed how John’s efforts to avoid ac... Read More

Horrible Monday: Next of Kin by Dan Wells

Next of Kin by Dan Wells

“I died again last night.” It’s a compelling first sentence to a novella told from the point of view of Elijah Sexton, a demon, and it promises a different and exciting new start to Dan Wells’s JOHN CLEAVER series.

Sexton drinks memories. For a time, he killed people himself, “topping off” his memory as he pleases. Soon, though, imbued with a hundred thousand lives, he could no longer bear to kill. Instead, he works in a morgue and drinks the memories of the newly dead. He lives

from death to death, sometimes two weeks, sometimes three, holding on as long as I can while my brain slips away like sand in an hourglass, grain by grain, loose and crumbling, until I can barely remember my own name and I have to find another. I drink their minds like a trembling addict, desperate and ashamed.


Other demons mock Sexton fo... Read More

Footsteps in the Sky: a multi-layered, rewarding read

Footsteps in the Sky by Greg Keyes

Footsteps in the Sky, by Greg Keyes, is on one level a wholly enjoyable science fiction action story that offers up a whole bunch of fun surface action involving laser rifles, fusion-powered seedships, augmented humans, AIs, rebellious space colonies, and the like. You can read it for those elements alone and have yourself a good time. But the novel offers much more, as Keyes builds onto the surface elements an evocative, deeply felt exploration of identity, compassion, faith, community, and of just what it means to be human, much of it through the prism of the Hopi culture/belief system, presented here in detailed, respectful, and often touching manner and presented as well in a fashion that could clearly stand as an analogue to modern-day conflicts within such native cultures: How does one mainta... Read More

The Shadow of Elysium: A dynamic, eye-opening update

The Shadow of Elysium by Django Wexler

The Shadow of Elysium is the second novella in Django Wexler’s THE SHADOW CAMPAIGNS series. In The Penitent Damned, the preceding novella, we witnessed Alex’s untimely capture by the Priests of the Black. This installment is a continuation of Alex’s story, albeit I didn’t realize it at first because the story is told through the viewpoint of Abraham, a newly introduced character who also has demonic abilities. When the story begins, Abraham is being transported through the wilderness in Murnsk; his arresters later join in with Alex’s, and both prisoners continue on towards Elysium, where they will be imprisoned for life for containing demons. Roughly every other chapter is a flashback of Abraham’s, through which Wexler introduces us to t... Read More

Of Noble Family: A suspenseful, multi-layered finale to an imaginative series

Of Noble Family by Mary Robinette Kowal

Warning: May contain spoilers for previous books in the GLAMOURIST HISTORIES

With Of Noble Family, Mary Robinette Kowal brings to an end her GLAMOURIST HISTORIES series, set in a fantastical English Regency period. While the book resolves several issues in the lives of Jane and David Vincent, there is no feeling of “winding down.” The book is suspenseful, filled with surprises and real stakes for Jane and her beloved, troubled husband.

In Vienna, Jane and Vincent are interrupted in the midst of a family visit by a letter informing Vincent that his father, the villainous Lord Verbury, has died in Antigua. The Lord fled to Antigua after being accused of treason in England. A carriage accident led to the death of one of... Read More

The War of the Worlds: Martians come to England and they’re not here for tea

The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

This classic alien invasion story from 1897 hardly needs any introduction. We all know the image of Martians descending from space, moving on giant metal tripods and using deadly heat rays to ruthlessly destroy everything in their wake. Most infamous was the 1938 Orson Welles radio broadcast that had average Americans convinced they were being invaded by Martians. Then George Pal had a crack at The War of the Worlds with a film version in 1953.

The funniest film inspired by this book is definitely Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks, which is gloriously silly and spares no civilians. And last but not least, Steven Spielberg gave The War of the Worlds the full-budget Hollywood treatment in 2005 with perennial SF leading man Tom Cruise. So this tale is part of our culture, which is a credit to Read More

Swallow: Action, romance, and some mystical elements, too

Swallow: A Tale of the Great Trek by H. Rider Haggard

No, this is not the Linda Lovelace biography. (Oops, sorry ... bad joke.) Rather, Swallow is yet another fine piece of adventure fantasy from the so-called "father of lost-race fiction," H. Rider Haggard. In addition to some 14 novels depicting the adventures of hunter Allan Quatermain, Haggard penned some dozen or so other books that were set in the wilds of Africa. Swallow, his 22nd novel, was written in 1896, but did not see publication until January 1899. It is a somewhat unique book in the Haggard canon, being narrated, as it is, by an old Boer woman, the Vrouw Botmar, who is anything but sympathetic to the cause of British imperialism. She tells her story of the Great Trek of 1836, and all the many incidents surrounding it. And what a tale thi... Read More

The Girl, the Gold Watch, and Everything: An excellent fantasy … in more ways than one!

The Girl, the Gold Watch, and Everything by John D. MacDonald

Having never read anything previously by renowned author John D. MacDonald, I discovered his 1962 paperback The Girl, the Gold Watch, and Everything after reading about it in David Pringle's excellent overview volume Modern Fantasy: The Hundred Best Novels. Writing about the novel in that volume, the British critic tells us that it is "an amusing romp," and MacDonald's "only full-length fantasy." There may perhaps be many readers who are surprised to hear of MacDonald being mentioned in the same sentence as the word "fantasy"; after all, he is an author more well-known for almost 50 hard-boiled crime thrillers, not counting the 21-book series featuring his most famous character, Florida-based private investigator Travis McGee, which started in 1964. But in truth, MacDonald was, early in his ... Read More

The Darkest Part of the Forest: A fairy-tale remix with a touch of realism

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Holly Black's latest book, The Darkest Part of the Forest, is a marvelous YA fairy-tale remix. It follows siblings Hazel and Ben as they work to unfold the mystery surrounding the sleeping prince in the forest outside of Fairfold, a town where humans live in close contact with the fairies the rest of the world doesn't believe in. As Hazel and Ben get closer to understanding the history of the town and the forest, they begin to hide secrets from each other and themselves. Only when all the secrets are told can they work to save the people they love.

Jana and I read this book at the same time. I listened to the audio version. Here are our thoughts.

Kate: The Darkest Part of the Forest combines the favorite themes of young adult fi... Read More

The Affinities: What if online dating worked?

The Affinities by Robert Charles Wilson

Adam Fink was just another graphic art student in Toronto before he took InterAlia’a affinity test. The affinity test examines a person’s genes, brain patterns, and behavior and sorts people into one of twenty-two affinities (or into none of them). InterAlia has an algorithm that’s sort of like online dating, but it looks like they got it right this time.

The Affinities are still new when Adam takes the test. Not a lot is widely known about them, but there are twenty-two Affinity groups. The Taus might be the largest Affinity, and though it’s wrong to generalize, their members tend to smoke pot, they tend to enter open relationships, and they tend to prefer decentralized groups to hierarchical leadership. The Hets, meanwhile, are extremely hierarchical and deeply concerned with power and dominance. Given that Read More

The Island of Dr. Moreau: A dark fable of mad science and Beast Men

The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells

H. G. Wells’ 1896 novel is dark, disturbing and thought-provoking. Coming just several decades after the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859), it tells the tale of a man named Edward Prendick who gets shipwrecked on a remote island, subsequently encountering a sinister figure named Dr. Moreau, who he discovers conducts vivisections of animals, combining various creatures to make subhuman beasts who he then loses interest in and releases to roam the island. Some of these Beast Men have banded together and recite a Law that rules their actions:
Not to go on all-fours; that is the Law. Are we not Men? Not to suck up Drink; that is the Law. Are we not Men? Not to eat Fish or Flesh; that is the Law. Are we not Men? Not to claw the Bark of Trees; that is the Law.... Read More

Dandelion Wine: A perfectly-distilled small-town summer

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

Can you be nostalgic for a place you never lived in, for a time long gone before you were born? I certainly never lived in Waukegan, Illinois in the summer of 1928 as a 12-year old boy named Douglas Spalding, but Ray Bradbury has perfectly evoked a magical world of a long-lost Midwest small town as seen from the eyes of a bright, energetic young boy.

You would think small town life is fairly boring and uneventful, but in the lyrical hands of Bradbury, think again. The short vignettes he tells are always unexpected, and verge from wryly-amusing to heart-breaking to outright terrifying, all because of the skill and love with which Bradbury approaches these characters.

Strangely enough, I didn't like The Martian Chronicles much, because it merely used Mars as a stage to ex... Read More

The Buried Giant: I Enjoyed It. Others Might Not.

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

I enjoyed it. Others might not. I suppose I could put that title on a lot of my reviews without sacrificing much for accuracy, but I mean it to be suggestive here that The Buried Giant is going to be a bit divisive. It’s a well-crafted book, certainly, and it has as much thematic heft to keep anyone happy, but whether or not it’s an appealing book may be a bit less cut-and-dried.

The story, in brief, is as follows: sometime in early British history, an elderly couple named Axl and Beatrice set out on a quest to find their son. They have a general idea that he left them at some point, but they aren’t sure how long ago that was or what drove the family apart. The land is swathed in what our protagonists call “the mist,” a kind of metaphysical force that fogs the memories of anyone who lives in it to the extent that they might forget events that occurred... Read More