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The Bear and the Nightingale: A feast of Russian folklore-inspired fantasy

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The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

In the northern lands of medieval Rus’, a daughter is born to Pyotr Vladimirovich, a boyar, lord over many lands, and his wife Marina, who dies in childbirth. But Marina, daughter of the Grand Prince of Moscow and a mysterious, swan-like beggar girl, has bequeathed her daughter Vasilisa a mystical heritage. Vasilisa, or Vasya, grows up to be a spirited and rather rebellious young girl who, like an untamed colt, freely roams the fields and forest, and is able to see and communicate with the domovoi (a guardian of the home), rusalka (a dangerous water nymph), and other natural spirits of the home and land. Her beloved nurse Dunya tells Vasya and her siblings stories of Ivan and the Gray Wolf, the Firebird, and the frost-king, Morozko.

But Vasya’s carefree life ends when her father finally decides to remarry. He brings h... Read More

Babylon’s Ashes: A great read in the best sci-fi series going

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Babylon’s Ashes by James S. A. Corey

Here’s the short version of the review of James S. A. Corey’s Babylon’s Ashes (2016), book six in THE EXPANSE series: I’ve long considered THE EXPANSE my favorite science fiction series I’ve read as an adult, and Babylon’s Ashes does nothing to change that opinion. If you’ve read the other books (and if you haven’t, why are you reading this?), jump in with all confidence. The long version follows with major spoilers for prior novels.

Babylon’s Ashes picks up right after the operatically cataclysmic events of Read More

Rosewater: Weird, gritty, gorgeous alien invasion story

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Rosewater by Tade Thompson

In the Nigerian town of Rosewater, Kaaro, the main character of Tade Thompson’s Rosewater (2016), works for Section 45, a sinister government agency. Rosewater is built next to an alien dome, Utopicity, and the arrival of the aliens ten years earlier seems to have unleashed a host of unusual occurrences and abilities within the human population of Rosewater. Kaaro is one of these people — for his job at Section 45, he prevents crime, can read the minds of prisoners, and finds people by entering the ‘xenosphere,’ an ability which makes him a ‘sensitive.’ Unfortunately, sensitives like Kaaro are dying and he may be next. The answer to this problem might lie with Molara, a woman who appears to Kaaro in the xenosphere under the guise of a butterfly, and who keeps contacting him. But as he discovers more about Molara and tries... Read More

Feedback: The cure for the common zombie nonsense

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Reposting to include Kate's new review.

Feedback by Mira Grant

I am not, historically, a fan of zombie narratives — neither in books nor in movies. The allegories are too obvious: consumerism, racism, opposing political party members, generalized xenophobia, etc. There’s hardly ever a satisfying answer as to why any of this is happening. Characters rarely do anything more interesting than board up windows, shriek at each other, get chewed on, and then do a little chewing of their own before dying gruesomely. Imagine my grateful surprise, then, when I opened up a copy of Mira Grant’s Feedback (2016), and discovered a wickedly smart novel drenched in bleach and blood.

Functioning as a companion/stand-alone novel to Grant’s existing NEWSF... Read More

Arrowood: Creepy, tragic Gothic mystery

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Arrowood by Laura McHugh

When Arden Arrowood was a little girl, her younger twin sisters vanished without a trace. The last Arden saw of them was a flash of blonde hair, speeding away in the back of a gold car. A local man with a car fitting the description was questioned; nothing could ever be pinned on him, but the whole town thought he was guilty anyway.

The girls were never found, and their loss became a wound that destroyed the Arrowood family and continues to haunt Arden, now in her twenties. Then her father dies, and Arden learns she has inherited the family home, also called Arrowood, in Keokuk, Iowa. Reeling from academic and romantic troubles, Arden decides to go home and regroup. But the old house is full of secrets, and Arden soon learns that there might be more to her sisters’ disappearance than she realized as a child.

Arrowood is a... Read More

One Fell Sweep: The Inn under siege

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One Fell Sweep by Ilona Andrews

Note: This review contains some spoilers for the two earlier books in the INNKEEPER CHRONICLES series.

As One Fell Sweep (2016) begins, Dina DeMille, the Innkeeper of the Gertrude Hunt Inn, a secret way-stop on Earth for galactic visitors, is recuperating from the life-and-death peace summit that her inn hosted in Sweep in Peace. She’s also just beginning to pick up her relationship with Sean, the werewolf warrior, when a reptilian visitor brings her a message: Dina’s widowed sister Maud is stuck on the planet Kahari and needs rescuing. Dina calls in a favor from Arland, a buff, blond vampire friend (think Chris Hemsworth as Thor, plus fangs), who takes her and Sean to this ruthless frontier planet to rescue Maud a... Read More

Ficciones: Innovative and challenging fantastical stories

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges

Ficciones is a classic collection of seventeen short stories by acclaimed Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges, originally published in the 1940s in Spanish, and winner of the 1961 International Publishers Prize. These stories and mock essays are a challenging mixture of philosophy, magical realism, fantasy, ruminations on the nature of life, perception and more. There are layers of meaning and frequent allusions to historic figures, other literary works, and philosophical ideas, not readily discernable at first read. Reading Ficciones, and trying to grasp the concepts in it, was definitely the major mental workout of the year for me. My brain nearly overloaded several times, but reading some critical analyses of these works helped tremendous... Read More

The Liberation: A thrilling, thoughtful close to a great series

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The Liberation by Ian Tregillis

The Liberation (2016)is the concluding novel to Ian Tregillis’ fantastic ALCHEMY WARS trilogy, and he wraps it all up with a book as strong in action and deep in thought as its predecessors, making this series one of my favorites of recent years and one I highly recommend. If you haven’t read the first two (and you absolutely should fix that error), you’ll probably want to stop here as there will be a few unavoidable spoilers for both The Mechanical and The Rising. And since I’m assuming, therefore, that you’ve read those books, I won’t bother with recapping basic p... Read More

The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars

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The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars by Dava Sobel

Dava Sobel has long done great work in giving major events and people in science a compelling and engaging narrative, whether it be Nicolaus Copernicus in A More Perfect Heaven, Galileo and his daughter Suor Maria Celeste in Galileo’s Daughter, or John Harrison in Longitude. In her newest work, The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars, her focus shifts slightly from the singular to the plural, telling the story of the group of women who worked as “human computers” at Harvard analyzing the Observatory’s glass plates — a massive photographic record of the stars’ movements in the skies. Their work led to some of the most ... Read More

Everfair: A history of a country that could have existed, with problems, power, magic

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Everfair by Nisi Shawl

I admired Nisi Shawl’s alternate history fantasy Everfair (2016) more than I loved it, and I admired it a lot. Shawl creates an African country at the turn of the 20th century, a country that could have existed, and gives it challenges, troubles, and magic.

Everfair starts in 1889. In Europe, the Fabians negotiate with the king of Belgium, Leopold II, to purchase land in Africa adjacent to Leopold’s personal colony, the so-called Congo Free State. While many white Europeans are troubled by the atrocities Leopold commits in his colony, the nations of Europe are hungry for rubber, so no one challenges the mass kidnappings, the enslavement, the mutilations, the wholesale slaughter and the abominable living conditions. Jackie Owen, a Fabian, has raised money and brokered a deal to create a colony w... Read More

Arcanum Unbounded: A must-have for Sanderson fans

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Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection by Brandon Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson’s Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection (2016) is a collection of stories that, save for one, have all been published elsewhere, and are here rebundled in one easy-to-find collection. Adding value beyond convenience, the collection adds illustrations and mini-prologues (written by a familiar character) offering up details for each of the planetary system settings in Sanderson’s fictional universe, and each story is followed by a short essay by Sanderson explaining the story’s provenance. Usually with collections, stories vary somewhat in quality, and that’s true here, though more a result of some stories feeling a bit slight rather than not well written/constructed. As a whole, though, Read More

We Are Legion (We Are Bob): Geeky SF fun a la The Martian

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We Are Legion (We Are Bob) by Dennis E. Taylor

This seems to be a thing these days. Breezy, snarky SF stories by first-time authors that promote their own work, capture a lot of positive word-of-mouth and become very popular without major publisher help initially. I’m thinking of Andy Weir’s The Martian, Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, and John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War. Basically, these books ar... Read More

A Wrinkle in the Skin: A gritty, post-apocalyptic winner

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A Wrinkle in the Skin by John Christopher

Although most of us probably deem earthquakes to be relatively infrequent phenomena, the truth is that, as of this writing in late November, almost 150 such seismic events, ranging from relatively minor to completely devastating, have transpired somewhere in the world in 2016 alone. That’s an average of one earthquake every two or three days! But although these events are not only, uh, earth-shattering for those in the areas directly affected, few would deem them a possible concern for long-term, apocalyptic scenarios, as might be the case with, say, an asteroid collision ... except, that is, British author John Christopher, in his 1965 novel A Wrinkle in the Skin. Christopher, who was born in Lancashire in 1922, had already pleased this rea... Read More

The Queen of Blood: A solid, dramatic opening

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Reposting to include Jana's new review.

The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst

The Queen of Blood (2016) is the first book in an epic fantasy series by Sarah Beth Durst, THE QUEENS OF RENTHIA. Durst seems to be able to write whatever she sets her mind to: YA, urban fantasy, or dark fairy tales. The Queen of Blood is a briskly-paced story that introduces us to an original fantasy world with some unusual magical powers.

Daleina lives with her parents and little sister in one of the “outer villages” in the great forests of the kingdom of Aratay. The forest is filled with nature spirits: air, water, ice, earth, fire and wood. These spirits are not friendly. Their instinct is to kill humans, but the powe... Read More

The Witch of Lime Street: It’s society wife vs Houdini in this riveting nonfiction spiritualist duel

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The Witch of Lime Street by David Jaher

Harry Houdini is still famous as a magician and an escape artist. The last few years of his life, though, he devoted large chunks of time to exposing and debunking fake “spiritualist mediums.” In The Witch of Lime Street, David Jaher takes a look at Houdini’s most famous spiritualist case: his two-year battle with the “Boston Back Bay Medium” who used the alias Margery.

Most people date the spiritualist movement in the USA from the 1840s, with the Fox sisters of Palmyra, New York. When the sisters were present, spectral rappings were heard, for which no source could be discovered until decades later when one of the sister ‘fessed up; (she could crack her toes the way some people crack their knuckles). In the interwar period of the twentieth century, spiritualism enjoyed a resurgence, and a power... Read More

Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation

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Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation edited and translated by Ken Liu

Invisible Planets is an interesting and varied anthology of thirteen speculative short fiction stories and three essays by seven contemporary Chinese authors, translated into English by Ken Liu. As Liu mentions in the Introduction, several of these stories have won U.S. awards (most notably the 2016 Hugo Award for best novelette, given to Hao Jingfang’s Folding Beijing) and have been included in “Year’s Best” anthologies. Chinese fantasy and science fiction is richly diverse, and this collection amply proves that. While there is political commentary in some of these stories, it would be, as Liu comments, doing these works a disservice to assume that they ... Read More

Look Straight Ahead by Elaine M. Will

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Look Straight Ahead by Elaine M. Will

Over the years, I’ve found that more and more I seek out unique black-and-white comics that, most often, are written and drawn by female creators. And I have a particular interest in any books dealing with mental illness. For example, one of my favorite graphic novels is Ellen Forney’s Marbles, a memoir focusing on her learning to live with bipolar. I was pleased to find recently another book that addresses the topic of bipolar — Elaine M. Will’s Look Straight Ahead Read More

Chasm City: Gothic cyberpunk at its dark best

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Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds

Chasm City (2001) is the fourth Alastair Reynolds book I’ve read in his REVELATION SPACE series, though it is a stand-alone and a much better book. The main trilogy (Revelation Space, Redemption Ark, Absolution Gap) featured a lot of good hard SF world-building, but was heavily weighed down by clunky characters, dialogue, and extremely bloated page-count. While Chasm City is not any shorter at around 700 pages, it make... Read More

The Origins of Everything in 100 Pages (More or Less): A master class in concision

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The Origins of Everything in 100 Pages (More or Less) by David Bercovici

The Origins of Everything in 100 Pages (More or Less) by David Bercovici, in his own words, “covers the Universe’s greatest hits, recounting when and most importantly how its various pieces emerged.” That’s a tall order for any book, let alone one that is so short, but Bercovici tempers the readers’ expectations early on, letting us know that:

"There are other excellent books, far more comprehensive than this one, on the history of the Universe and life ...The goal of this book is not to be deep and comprehensive but instead to be boldly (or baldly) shallow and superficial in the best sense of these words ... My aim is to give a quick and hopefully readable overview that provides a taste of our Universe’s story (and to some extent hu... Read More

Stargate: Beautiful creation myth blends fantasy and sci-fi

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Stargate by Pauline Gedge

“Before the beginning was the Lawmaker,” he read. “And the Lawmaker made the Worldmaker and commanded him to make according to his nature. And the Worldmaker made the worlds…”

Originally published in 1982 and re-issued in 2016, Pauline Gedge’s Stargate is a sci-fi/fantasy hybrid writ large. Its universe rides the mythic themes of a world overseen by Gods who live within the vague rules similarly employed against their literary and cultural brethren in Olympus. Gedge seems more than happy to borrow these Grecian mythic motifs while putting her own sci-fi/fantasy spin on the creation myths we find embedded within even modern religions.

Important note before I continue: This book has nothing to do with Read More

The Singing Bones: Haunting fairy-tale sculptures

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The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan

I’m not quite sure how to review The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan. It’s not quite like anything else I’ve read, and I’m not sure I know how to review visual art in the first place. But I can certainly recommend it.

This unique book contains photographs of small sculptures by Tan, each illustrating one of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales. Each sculpture encapsulates its respective tale in one haunting image, often enhanced by the lighting and arrangement of the photo, and accompanied by a short passage from the tale.

"Mother Trudy"



You will be familiar with some of the tales. Others, you might not be. ... Read More

Lost Gods: Death is not the end

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Lost Gods by Brom

If you’ve seen any buzz about author/illustrator Brom’s newest novel, Lost Gods (2016), in which the words “Dante” or “Inferno” are heavily featured, I’d advise you to read that buzz with a pinch of salt; to rely on the similarities between Lost Gods and Inferno is to neglect the breadth and depth of Brom’s creativity and imagination, and I would sorely hate to see this level of world-building and inspiration reduced to the bare-bones concept of “guy goes to Hell” when there’s so much more presented here.

Lost Gods does feature a man who travels to the netherworld, it’s true: Chet Moran, aged twenty-four, is fresh out of county lockup and trying to set his life s... Read More

The Shores of Space: Matheson X 13

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The Shores of Space by Richard Matheson

The four novels that I had previously read by New Jersey-born Richard Matheson  — namely, 1954’s I Am Legend, 1956’s The Shrinking Man, 1958’s A Stir of Echoes and 1971’s Hell House — all demonstrated to this reader what a sure hand the late author had in the fields of science fiction, fantasy and Read More

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill: finding magic and wings in dark times

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The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd

Emmaline knows a secret: Briar Hill, a Shropshire mansion which has been turned into a children’s hospital during World War II, has beautiful winged horses that live in the mirrors of its elegant rooms. They move in and out of the mirror-rooms, walking through doorways, nosing half-finished cups of tea. But only Emmaline can see them, and she keeps the secret to herself. She knows the boys like Benny and Jack will tease her mercilessly if they knew. She doesn’t even tell her best friend Anna, who’s the most ill person at the hospital, for fear that she’ll distress Anna.

One day Benny steals a treasured piece of chocolate from Emmaline and eats it. Upset, Emmaline runs outside and (breaking the hospital rules) climbs over the ivy of a walled garden on the grounds. Inside the abandoned garden, a beautiful white horse with a soft gr... Read More

The House of Secrets by Steven T. Seagle and by Teddy Kristiansen

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The House of Secrets written by Steven T. Seagle and illustrated by Teddy Kristiansen

The House of Secrets is a twenty-five issue series that started in 1996 and is written by Steven T. Seagle and illustrated by Teddy Kristiansen. It features a lying, unreliable runaway named Rain Harper; a young girl she takes under her wing named Traci; and a group of musicians, one of whom, Ben Volk, becomes the third central character in the series. Right after Rain and Traci meet, Traci tells Rain a valuable secret: She knows a place to squat where they will be safe. Rain, therefore, joins Traci and moves into the House of Secrets. And then all the fun starts.

This series brings with it a long history: House of Secrets, an old horror series that started in 1956, was mainly a platform for one-off stories in the tradition of all the old classic horr... Read More