4.5

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

Amberlough: A rich, well-written romance and instant classic

Readers’ average rating:

Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly

While Lara Elena Donnelly’s debut novel Amberlough (2017) isn’t quite the Fleming-esque spy thriller it purports to be, Amberlough certainly doesn’t disappoint. Set in Amberlough City, a decadent, Industrial-era locale reminiscent of Paris in the early 1900s, Amberlough tells the story of Cyril DePaul and his lover Aristide Makricosta, who also happens to be the city’s greatest crime lord. Cyril, a former field operative in Amberlough’s Federal Office of Central Intelligence Services who landed a cushy desk job after an assignment went awry, is supposed to be keeping tabs on Aristide by seducing him but instead finds himself truly falling for Aristide instead. At the same time, a fascist movement is coming to power in Amberlough’s vibrant democracy, so life in the ... Read More

Gilded Cage: The abuse of power by the super-powered

Readers’ average rating: 

Gilded Cage by Vic James

In the world of Gilded Cage (2017), there are those who are called Equals ― but there’s a deep divide between Equals, who have magical Skills, and the commoners, the Skilless, and they are decisively not equal. In England the Equals are both the aristocrats and the sole parliament, and they hold all the power, with the magical ability to enforce it.

One of the ways the Equals use their power is to require all commoners to spend ten years of their lives as slaves, known as slavedays. There are some interesting rules associated with this 10-year slavery law: there are advantages to doing it early in your life (such as the right to own a home, travel abroad, and hold certain jobs), you are required to begin them no later than age 55, and those under age 18 are to serve in the same place with their parents.

When 18-year-ol... Read More

American Gods: Mixed opinions

Readers’ average rating:

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

This is a bad land for Gods... The old gods are ignored. The new gods are as quickly taken up as they are abandoned, cast aside for the next big thing. Either you've been forgotten, or you're scared you're going to be rendered obsolete, or maybe you're just getting tired of existing on the whims of people.

Shadow, just out of prison and with nothing to go home to, is hired to be Mr. Wednesday's bodyguard as he travels around America to warn all the other incarnations of gods, legends, and myths, that “a storm is coming.” There's going to be a battle between the old gods who were brought to melting pot America by their faithful followers generations ago, and the new gods of technology, convenience, and individuality.

That's the premise of Read More

Six Wakes: A labyrinthine whodunit

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

Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

It may be obvious from reading some of my previous reviews that I really enjoy books in which authors successfully blend elements of detective fiction into their speculative fiction. Six Wakes (2017), by Mur Lafferty, folds the concept of a locked-room mystery into a generation-ship tale, much to my delight.

Six Wakes begins when Maria Arena, a clone, comes to consciousness in the cloning bay of the Dormire and discovers that the exterior of her clone-vat is smeared with blood. All of the six-person crew — including her previous iteration — have been viciously attacked, leaving grisly remains and destroyed equipment from stem to stern. The... Read More

Dreams of Distant Shores: A treasure box of stories

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

Reposting to include Rebecca'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,... Read More

The Sandman Mystery Theatre Book One by Matt Wagner

Readers’ average rating: 



The Sandman Mystery Theatre Book One by Matt Wagner

The Sandman Mystery Theatre is a near-perfect noir comic book series written in the 1990s by Matt Wagner, though the stories are set in the late 1930s. In some ways, Wagner is making a return to the older, original Sandman character created in 1939 (who also went by the name of Wesley Dodds), but the Sandman has had various incarnations since then, including Kirby’s in the 1970s. And of course, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman is the most famous of them all, but he simply took the name and completely reinvented the character as an immortal entity, also known as Morpheus and Dream. Wagner takes us back to the... Read More

Martians Abroad: Fun from the first page to the last

Readers’ average rating:

Martians Abroad by Carrie Vaughn

In Martians Abroad (2017), Carrie Vaughn re-envisions aspects of the “juvenile” novel Podkayne of Mars by Robert A. Heinlein, turning his classic spacefaring story into something refreshing and new while retaining the sense of limitless adventure. Kat has mentioned in her reviews of Heinlein’s juveniles that they were instrumental in forming her love of science fiction, and the same is true for me: books like Have Space Suit — Will Travel and Read More

A Face Like Glass: Hardinge has a wonderful way with weird

Readers’ average rating:

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

Frances Hardinge is rumoured to be made “entirely of velvet”, or so her biography would have us believe. A mysteriously “unphotographable” author who wears a black hat. She seems to covet a certain strangeness, a sense of mystery that shrouds both her writing and herself.

Well if that’s what it takes to write stories as well as she does, then I’m all for it.

Once again on reading Hardinge, I am struck that the age-old question — where do you get your ideas? — is entirely appropriate. There are familiar motifs in her work and yet there are also other ideas that leap from the page defying normality and expectation. I felt this in Cuckoo Song Read More

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

Readers’ average rating:  

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

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

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

Readers’ average rating:

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

Readers’ average rating:

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

Readers’ average rating:

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

Readers’ average rating: 

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

Readers’ average rating:

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

Readers’ average rating:

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

Readers’ average rating:

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

Readers’ average rating:

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

Readers’ average rating:

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

Readers’ average rating:

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

Readers’ average rating:

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

Readers’ average rating:

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

Readers’ average rating:

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

Readers’ average rating: 

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

Readers’ average rating: 

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