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The Queen of Blood: A solid, dramatic opening to an epic fantasy series

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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

Black Wolves: The hearts and minds of Elliott’s characters are wonderful

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Black Wolves by Kate Elliott

I’m not going to spend much time summarizing the plot of Kate Elliott’s epic fantasy Black Wolves. I don’t think I could. Black Wolves (2015)is the first book of a series, also called BLACK WOLVES. It is 780 pages long, and the story spans nearly fifty years (although there is a large gap in the timeline). It involves a nation called the Hundred, which sits on the northern border of a large, powerful empire. It involves the murder of a king, the crowning of another, and a dynastic dispute between two queens. It involves a shift away from indigenous beliefs to a state-sponsored religion imported from the Empire — and a corrupt priesthood. It includes people from various cultures who have come to the Hundred a... Read More

Ficciones: Innovative and challenging fantastical stories

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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 tremendously with my understanding and appreciation of these works ... well,... Read More

The Time Traveler’s Wife: A haunting and bittersweet love story

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The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

I'm certainly late to the party when it comes to reading Audrey Niffenegger's first novel — I remember it making a huge splash when it was first published, and was astonished to flip open my copy and realise it was released back in 2003. Time certainly flies, which is an apt idiom to recall when reading The Time Traveler's Wife.

Clare meets Henry for the first time when she's six and he's thirty-six. Henry meets Clare for the first time when he's twenty-eight and she's twenty. This is made possible by the fact Henry is born with a rare genetic disease that sporadically pulls him into his past or future, often depositing him in strange locations where he's left stranded and alone.

What makes matters worse... Read More

Kingfisher: A Camelot-type court in the modern era

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Reposting to include Rebecca's new review:

Kingfisher by Patricia A. McKillip

Knights dress in black and ride motorcycles, sorcerers and sorceresses run restaurants, and maybe your grandpa isn’t actually crazy. Such is the world in which Patricia A. McKillip’s Kingfisher takes place. Though it may begin with a deceivingly simple quest of a young man looking for his long-lost father, Kingfisher becomes much more than that very quickly. It ends up following the stories of four young people as they navigate their changing worlds and values as well as deftly interweaving their lives in surprisingly satisfying ways. I was leery (and a bit confused) at first, but Kingfisher delivers an enchanting tale of anci... Read More

Magic Binds: Wedding planning is rough when your father’s a homicidal tyrant

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Magic Binds by Ilona Andrews

Note: Some spoilers for earlier books in the series

In Magic Binds (2016), the ninth book in Ilona AndrewsKATE DANIELS urban fantasy series, Kate, a mercenary with awe-inspiring sword-fighting and magical abilities, and Curran, her shapeshifter mate and the former Beast Lord, have decided to officially tie the knot. After dealing with several obstacles to get to the home of their friend Roman, the priest of Chernobog, the Russian dark god, including a pony-sized black scorpion (“If we killed his pet scorpion, we’d never hear the end of it”), they ask Roman to marry them. Roman is absolutely delighted ― as the Black God’s priest, no one ever asks him to marry them ― and in one of the funniest running ... Read More

Daughter of Blood: The third instalment in an ever-growing fantasy epic

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Daughter of Blood by Helen Lowe

Daughter of Blood (2016), is the third book in Helen Lowe's four-book WALL OF NIGHT series, preceded by The Heir of Night and The Gathering of the Lost. It's been a while since I read the last book, so it took a few chapters to untangle the far-reaching web of characters and plotlines, but soon I was back on track and re-immersing myself into the world of Haarth.

The Wall of Night is a vast mountain range that is garrisoned by the warlike Derai clans. Made up of Nine Houses in all, the Derai defend the wall against the destructive and demonic Darkswarm — but internal strife and civil war has weakened the vigilance of the Houses, and the power of the Swarm grows stronger ev... Read More

Ghost Talkers: Thought-provoking, action-packed paranormal spy drama

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Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal

Mary Robinette Kowal leaves behind the British Regency period in Ghost Talkers (2016), setting this paranormal tale during World War I. The British have learned that spiritualism is real, and they are using a circle of mediums to interact with the spirits of recently killed British soldiers, who seek out the mediums to provide whatever information they can from the scene of their deaths. Ginger Stuyvesant is an American medium, engaged to a British intelligence officer, and the main character of this action-packed paranormal spy drama.

This is a fascinating idea and Kowal develops it thoroughly. Realistically, most soldiers who died in a trench aren’t going to have useful intel to bring back; Kowal, a consummate professional,... Read More

Death, the Deluxe Edition: A treasure for SANDMAN fans

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review

Death: The Deluxe Edition by Neil Gaiman

Death: The Deluxe Edition, was published by Vertigo in 2012. It’s a handsome book, slightly outsized (7 ¼ by 11 inches), perfect bound with a hard cover, dust jacket and matte black endpapers. The cover has a collage look, filled with shades of black and shell-pink, with Death in profile. The spiral tattoo below her right eye is prominent, and her hair sweeps in a curve like a wing.

All the stories in Death: The Deluxe Edition were written by Neil Gaiman. This collection includes the following stories, most of which are reprints:

"The Sound of her Wings" -- artwork by Mike Dringerberg and Malcolm Jones III
"Façade" -- artwork by Colleen Doran, Malco... Read More

Night Flower: Romantic and bittersweet prequel

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Night Flower by Kate Elliott

Night Flower, currently only available online, is a prequel novella to Court of Fives, the first book in Kate Elliott’s YA fantasy trilogy (also titled COURT OF FIVES). The relationship between Doma Kiya and Captain Esladas — the parents of Jessamy, teenaged Fives adversary and central figure of the trilogy — is a matter of speculation for many, especially the Saroese nobles who view this pairing with disgust and disdain. In this novella, Elliott takes readers back to when Kiya and Esladas first set foot in the city of Saryenia, when they were young and seeking their fortunes, and reveals the circumstances which drew them together.

Newly arrived in Saryenia with a small group of comrades from Old... Read More

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

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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

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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

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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?

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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