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Rhythm of War: A worthy continuation of an excellent series

Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Sometimes when I’m pondering a review of Brandon Sanderson, I feel like I’m back in one of those classic middle school conversations:

Me: I heard you like Brandon.
Also Me: Maybe I do
Me: Do you like like him?
Also Me: I said I liked him.
Me: Yeah, but like, like like?
Also Me: I don’t know. What’s that like, like like?
Me: It’s like, you stay up all night thinking about how much you like him.
Also Me: Well, I do stay up all night because of him. But I think it’s just because his books are so long.
Me: Would you like die if he stopped writing?
Also Me: I don’t think so.
Me: Do you think about him when you’re reading other writers?
Also Me: No.
Me: Oh. Well, then you like him, you don... Read More

Benighted: Book vs. film

Benighted by J.B. Priestley

While growing up in the 1960s, I used to love whenever one of the local TV channels would show one of British director James Whale’s Big 3 horror movies, all from Universal Studios: Frankenstein (1931), The Invisible Man (1933) and, perhaps best of all, the eternal glory that is Bride of Frankenstein (1935). What I was unaware of back then was the fact that there was a fourth Universal horror film directed by Whale, and that bit of youthful ignorance was not entirely my fault. Whale’s The Old Dark House (1932) was, for many years, considered a lost film, and it was not until 1968 that Curtis Harrington (himself the director of such horror gems as Queen of Blood, What’s the Matter With Helen? and Read More

Network Effect: Complex connections with friends and enemies

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Network Effect by Martha Wells

Martha Wells’ Murderbot has been gathering enthusiastic fans (which would be certain to have Murderbot hiding behind its opaque armored faceplate), along with multiple Nebula, Hugo and other awards and nominations, as each of the first four novellas in the MURDERBOT DIARIES series has been published over the last three years. In Network Effect (2020), the first full-length novel in this series, Wells is able to explore a more complex plot and to more fully develop Murderbot’s character and its relationships with others.

Murderbot is now with Dr. Mensah and the other Preservation Station characters who Murderbot was protecting in the first book, Read More

The Once and Future Witches: Rage, beauty, and sisterhood

Reposting to include Jana's new review.

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

Our Daddy never taught us shit, except what a fox teaches chickens — how to run, how to tremble, how to outlive the bastard — and our mama died before she could teach us much of anything. But we had Mama Mags, our mother’s mother, and she didn’t fool around with soup-pots and flowers.

Once upon a time there were three sisters, in a world where women’s magic was outlawed and driven underground. They had to battle an evil man and rediscover their own power, but each was filled with so much rage, pain and loss, that seemed impossible.

2020’s The Once and Future Witches is Alix E. Harrow’s sophomore novel. Harrow excels at so much here. The book is angrier than Read More

Hilda and the Troll: An intriguing start to this graphic novel series

Hilda and the Troll by Luke Pearson

The HILDA graphic novels had been on my radar for a while, but knowing they've recently been adapted into a Netflix original made me finally give them a read (I like to read the source material before watching any adaptations).

In Hilda and the Troll, Hilda is a young girl living with her mother in an unspecified part of the Scandinavian countryside, in a little wooden cabin on a great grassy plain. She spends her days wandering outside, drawing in her sketchbook, and reading texts about mythological creatures — which, the reader soon realizes, are not mythological at all.

Hilda encounters sea spirits and giants and trolls, recording them faithfully in her sketchbook. And this isn’t treated as particularly extraordinary; it’s taken for granted that her world is filled with such things. A little man made out of wood occasionally invi... Read More

The Midnight Bargain: A charming frolic of a book, barbed with social commentary

The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk 

By the bottom of the second full page of text, when the protagonist of The Midnight Bargain (2020) walked into Harriman’s Bookshop, I was hooked. When Beatrice Clayborn entered the second-hand shop and I saw it through her eyes, the book claimed me, not unlike the way a spirit might claim a sorceress in Beatrice’s magical world.

It’s bargaining season, or marriage season in Beatrice’s world, and young women of the upper classes, like Beatrice, jostle and compete for the hand of a suitable husband. Suitability is decided by their fathers, of course, and usually determined based on wealth, status and influence.

Beatrice loathes the bargaining season. She wants to study magic and become a full-blown Mage, a path closed to women, especially upper-class women. Instead of being able to pursue their talents, magical women are... Read More

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue: A memorable book about what’s-her-name

Reposting to include Jana's new review.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

V.E. Schwab’s The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue (2020) is a charming, thoughtful, sometimes-dark, sometimes moving, story about memory, love, rash decisions, female agency, stubborn defiance, mortality, resilience, and the power of art. In this time of Covid, a novel focused so much on the desire for human contact and fear of dying without leaving “a mark” is especially timely, though The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue would have been a highly recommended book in any other year.

Addie LaRue is a young woman in 18th Century France who yearns to be her own person, like the old woman outside town, Estele, “who belongs to everyone, and no one, and herself” and who is sai... Read More

The Entity: A nerve-racking horror wringer

The Entity directed by Sidney J. Furie

According to the Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey of 2016, a full 80 percent of all rapes in the U.S.A. go unreported. When asked to account for this staggering statistic, 20 percent of all victims surveyed said that the reason for this lack of reporting was a fear of retaliation; 13 percent said they felt the police would be ineffective at helping them; another 13 percent said that it was a personal matter that they wished to keep private; 8 percent seemed to feel that it was no big deal (!); and, stunningly, 7 percent did not wish to get their attacker into trouble with the law. The net result is that out of every 1,000 rape attacks in this country, only five of the perpetrators ever wind up going to jail. And these statistics, as I say, are from just four years ago. So one can only imagine the stigma that a rape victim might have endured 40 years ago, and the hesitancy that that victim might ... Read More

The Power of the Dark Crystal: Volume One: A return to the world of Thra

The Power of the Dark Crystal: Volume One by Simon Spurrier

With the recent release of Netflix’s The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, a prequel to the original 1982 film, I’ve been treating myself to all the supplementary material that's been released in the show's wake. Given that Thra is one of my favourite fantasy worlds (along with Middle Earth and Narnia), it’s been a dream come true to have so much new content.

According to the afterword, The Power of the Dark Crystal was originally written as a script by screenwriters David Odell, Anette Odell and Craig Pearce – though it was never adapted into a feature-length sequel to The Dark Crystal. Thank goodness for graphic novels, another visual medium that has no need for an extensive budget.

... Read More

Before Adam: The Folk, meet the Folk, they’re a mid-Pleistocene Era family…

Before Adam by Jack London

Today, more than a century after Jack London’s passing in 1916, most people probably remember the San Francisco-born author for his books of rugged adventure, such as his third novel, The Call of the Wild (1903), his fifth, The Sea-Wolf (1904), and his seventh, White Fang (1906). Fewer will recall that amongst London’s 23 novels, 21 short story collections, three memoirs, three plays, 22 books of nonfiction and 45 poems – all written during a life span of only 40 years – this most superhumanly prolific of authors also produced four books that must be classified as either fantasy or sci-fi. I have already written here of London’s 13th novel, The Scarlet Plague... Read More

Six of Crows: An exciting fantasy heist

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo, best known for her GRISHA young adult magical fantasy trilogy, explores a different corner of the Grisha world in her new young adult novel, Six of Crows. In the city of Ketterdam, an analog for Amsterdam, criminal gangs control the waterfront, and the surrounding area is a den of iniquity where everything can be bought and sold, including people. One of the gangs, appropriately called the Dregs, is led by 17 year old Kaz Brekker, nicknamed “Dirtyhands” because of his willingness to stoop to any level to maintain and grow his power and control. His young crew has been gaining in power and influence during the few years he’s been in charge of it.

One day a wealthy merchant abduct... Read More

Hunted by the Sky: Engaging characters in a vivid alternate world

Hunted by the Sky by Tanaz Bhathena

Hunted by the Sky (2020) is the first book in Tanaz Bhathena’s YA fantasy duology THE WRATH OF AMBAR. Bhathena is an award-winning YA author, and Hunted by the Sky is her first foray into YA fantasy. Set in an alternate world based on medieval India, the story held my interest with its magic, suspense, and the conflicts the two main characters face. The descriptions of settings delighted me.

Gul has spent her life in hiding and on the run, because of a star-shaped birthmark and a prophecy. When her parents are murdered by Shayla, a Sky Warrior known as The King’s Scorpion, a group of women rebels takes Gul in. Gul lives for only one thing, revenge against Shayla and against Raja Lohar, the king.

Cavas is the son of two non-magical people, who are treated as second-class citizens and relegated... Read More

Ballistic Kiss: The series gathers momentum as it heads into the home stretch

Ballistic Kiss by Richard Kadrey

2020’s SANDMAN SLIM novel, Ballistic Kiss, is the second-to-last entry in Richard Kadrey’s long-running demon-fighter punk-wizard series starring James Stark as Sandman Slim. I don’t know what I will do when the series finishes. I’ll miss the big lug.

However, Ballistic Kiss didn’t leave me too much time to fret about the future; Stark has plenty of adjustments to make in his present. Brought back to life by the Sub Rosa magical practitioners after a year dead, Stark is living in a flying-saucer shaped house owned by the Sub Rosa, struggling with PTSD, when the book opens. Returning from Hell (and death), Stark has discovered that, to his way of thinking at least, his friends’ lives have improved without him. Candy is in a muc... Read More

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking: A whimsical feast, with teeth in it

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher

A dead body is an awful thing to find on the floor of a bakery, especially when you’re a fourteen-year-old baker’s assistant with just a minor talent in magic, enough to make gingerbread men dance and biscuit dough turn fluffy on command. It’s worse when the city inquisitor decides to accuse you of the murder, for no particularly good reason. It’s even worse when you realize that there’s a mysterious assassin on the loose, targeting people who have magical powers, no matter how insignificant.

Mona is an orphan who works in her Aunt Tabitha’s bakery, using her talent with baking (and a little magic) to help with her job. It’s not an easy life, but Mona loves being an apprentice baker … and there’s the fact that her magical powers only work with bread products. But the city government and constables are turning against wizards, even minor ones like Mo... Read More

Emerald Blaze: One handsome Italian assassin to go, please

Emerald Blaze by Ilona Andrews

The violence between Houston’s powerful magical families breaks out again when Felix Morton is mysteriously murdered. Felix was involved in a private contract project involving an alliance between five magical Houses who are attempting to reclaim the Jersey Village suburb of Houston, which has become a pit for wild arcane magical creatures. If the reclamation succeeds, the land is worth a fortune, but Felix’s murder at the site puts a definite damper on the project.

Catalina Baylor — still recuperating from her broken heart when Alessandro Sagredo abruptly left her at the end of Sapphire Flames, six months ago — is told by her boss Linus Duncan to take over the investigation into Felix Morton’s death. The primary suspects are the four Prime magic users who were Felix’s business partners in th... Read More

By Force Alone: King Arthur makes an offer we can’t refuse

By Force Alone by Lavie Tidhar

Lavie Tidhar has been on quite the roll, earning rave 5 out of 5 reviews from me his last three books. Unfortunately, his newest, By Force Alone (2020), didn’t rise to the same level. No, I’m sorry to say I could only see my way to giving it 4.5 stars thanks to being merely “excellent” as opposed to “great.” Slacker.

By Force Alone is an Arthurian tale, though that is a bit deceptive. Camelot this ain’t (though the musical makes an appearance or two). Think of Malory filtered through a mash-up of John Boorman’s Excalibur co-directed/written by Guy Ritchie and Quentin Tarantino. And with a whole lotta cameos and Easter eggs. It’s dark, vulgar, gritty, funny, thoughtful, profane, biting, densely referential, bloody, and makes... Read More

The Space Between Worlds: An excellent debut

The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson

Multiple worlds and parallel universes are a staple in science fiction, and Micaiah Johnson does a nice job bringing some freshness to a well-worn concept in The Space Between Worlds (2020), mostly thanks to some sharp characterization, intricate plotting, and stylish prose.

Cara is a “Traverser,” one who travels from her Earth (Earth Zero) to parallel Earths collecting data for the Eldridge Corporation whose leader, Adam Bosch, invented the technology. In the rules of the narrative, one can only travel to a parallel Earth if their double there has died: “It took a lot of smart people’s corpses before they learned that If you’re alive in the world you’re trying to enter, you get rejected. You’re an anomaly the universe won’t allow.” It didn’t take long for the corporation to realize “they needed trash people. Poor black and brown people,”... Read More

Harrow the Ninth: The haunted palace is Harrow’s mind

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Last year’s Gideon the Ninth was a delightfully over-the-top space fantasy that ended with a gut punch that had readers shouting “Damn you, Tamsyn Muir!” and clamoring for the sequel. The sequel, Harrow the Ninth (2020) is here, and I enjoyed it a lot, though there are a few things you’ll want to know going in.

One is that there is a lot going on, much of it cryptic, some of which ties back into details from the first book that might be hazy by now. I would recommend rereading Gideon the Ninth first, or at least keeping it close at hand, so you can refer back to it if you have que... Read More

B.P.R.D. (Vol. 8): Killing Ground: Trapped inside the base

B.P.R.D. (Vol. 8): Killing Ground by Mike Mignola (writer), John Arcudi (writer), Guy Davis (artist), Dave Stewart (colors), & Clem Robins (letters)

 B.P.R.D.: Killing Ground introduces us to a transformed Johann, eager to try everything he can now that he has escaped his containment suit. And Liz continues to be haunted by her dreams, though she finds comfort in befriending the ancient mummy, Panya, who has joined them at B.P.R.D. headquarters. Abe has recommitted to the team now that he feels he has put his past to rest, as we saw in the last volume. Daryl the wendigo is transferred to the new facility as well, and finally, Daimio is haunted by his past now that his teammates have discovered his familial connection with a war criminal.

All these plot points are expertly brought together by writers Mignola and Arcudi. The wendigo causes more problems than expected, Panya ha... Read More

When Jackals Storm the Walls: Keeps up the series’ high standards

When Jackals Storm the Walls by Bradley P. Beaulieu

You had me at “The Story so Far.”
Really. It was all gonna be good after that.
“The Story so Far.”
Say it with me: “The Story so Far.”
Sweet Nana jam on toast, that curls the toes.
“The Story so Far.”

That’s how When Jackals Storm the Walls (2020), Bradley P. Beaulieu’s fifth novel in his THE SONG OF THE SHATTERED SANDS series begins, and nothing, nothing endears me more to a sequel, particularly a third or fourth or seventh book in a series, than a “here’s what’s happened up to now” prologue. Seriously, authors, publishers, gods of fiction — is it honestly all that hard? Isn’t this what staffers are for? Interns? Underfoot children? “The Story so F... Read More

Ruin and Rising: A satisfying end to an engrossing story

Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

The third and final instalment in Leigh Bardugo's GRISHA trilogy was far more rewarding than I had ever anticipated. Though I liked the first book Shadow and Bone and really liked the sequel Siege and Storm, it was Ruin and Rising that I truly loved.

It's difficult to summarize the finale of any book series without giving away details of its predecessors, but here goes – Alina Starkov is a Sun Summoner; a very rare Grisha that can conjure light out of nothing, a skill that's highly prized considering the country of Ravka is divided by a terrible darkness known a... Read More

Mexican Gothic: A creepy gothic novel featuring fungus

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Noemí Taboada is a 22-year-old flighty socialite living in Mexico City. She loves to dress up in beautiful gowns and high heels and go to parties with handsome young men. One evening she’s called home from a party early. Her wealthy father has received a strange letter from Catalina, Noemí’s recently married cousin. Catalina thinks she’s in danger from her new husband’s family and is begging for help. Is Catalina really imperiled, or is she suffering a mental breakdown?

Noemí’s father asks her to visit her cousin at High Place, her husband’s family’s mansion on top of a mountain in an isolated rural area of Mexico. When she arrives, Noemí is shocked to discover that, indeed, her cousin is not well. Though Catalina has moments of lucidity, at other times she rails about ghosts and other hallucinations.

The house and its inhabitants are undeniably frightening. T... Read More

The Sirens of Mars: Searching for Life on Another World

The Sirens of Mars: Searching for Life on Another World by Sarah Steward Johnson

It isn’t often that I wish for a longer book; in fact, it’s almost always the opposite. But that’s just what I found myself doing upon finishing Sarah Steward Johnson’s The Sirens of Mars: Searching for Life on Another World (2020), which is about exactly what you would think given the title — a history of our attempts to suss out if life exists on our red-hued neighbor, from speculations about ancient civilizations creating Schiaparelli’s “canali” to Johnson’s own work with NASA’s Mars missions. It’s an excellent book throughout, but it also feels like it could have gone into material in more detail in some places and ends so quickly that I had to doublecheck on Netgallery to make sure I hadn’t gotten an excerpt rather than a full version.

Johnson is both a writer and a scien... Read More

Siege and Storm: Despite a choppy beginning, this sequel delivers

Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

Siege and Storm (2013) is the second book in Leigh Bardugo's GRISHA trilogy, and does what any good sequel should do: expands the world, deepens the characters and raises the stakes. On the other hand, it can't quite avoid the pitfalls of a typical middle book — being unable to truly start or properly finish anything; it ends on a note that gives the impression the whole thing has been setup for the third and final instalment. But apart from this inevitability, Siege and Storm is a satisfying read.

Its predecessor Shadow and Bone introduced us to Alina Starkov and the concept of the Grisha. Born with the power to transmute certain elements (... Read More

Cinderella Is Dead: Heroines to cheer for

Cinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

It’s been two hundred years since Cinderella met her Prince Charming. Her dream come true has become a nightmare for the girls of Lille. Every year, all eligible young girls must attend the royal ball, where they vie to be selected as brides for Lille’s men. For the girls who are not chosen, there are dire but mysterious consequences.

It’s time for Sophia to debut at the ball, and it’s the last thing she wants to do. For one thing, she’s gay and doesn’t want to marry a man at all. She’s also noticed that many of the marriages that result from the ball are anything but happy. But refusing to attend would ruin her family, so Sophia goes. Disaster strikes, and soon Sophia is on the run with another girl. Constance, and they become a fierce two-woman resistance against the king. Along the way, Sophia discovers that the official version of the Cinderella story is a lie.

I... Read More