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The Iliad: An excellent graphic version of the classic tale

The Iliad by Gareth Hinds

Gareth Hinds makes a lot of good decisions in his graphic version of Homer’s The Iliad (2019), both in terms of art and narration, resulting in a book that’s easy to recommend both to young adults and also educators/parents who want to slip a little classical knowledge into their kid’s comic book.

Two of those good decisions involve cleverly incorporating each major hero’s initial into their helm or breastplate and ignoring the historical reality, and portraying the two sides in uniform garb so as to more easily distinguish one from the other. Given the number of characters, and an avalanche of names, anything that helps to separate Greeks from Trojans and tell Achilles from Agamemnon is a boon to the reader. The art is clear and vivid throughout, working hand in hand with the text to clarify, expand, emphasize, and enhance. It’s all well done, but my ... Read More

The Test: The cost of citizenship in a near-future world

The Test by Sylvain Neuvel

Since I fell in love with Sylvain Neuvel’s giant robots and sardonic narrator in Sleeping Giants, I’ve been curious to see what he would write next. The Test (2019) is an excellent novella, quite different from THE THEMIS FILES trilogy, though some similar themes are touched on and there are similarities in the narrative technique.

I went into reading The Test totally cold, without reading even the blurb ― just knowing that Neuvel wrote it was good enough for me to spend my $3.99 on the Kindle version ― and I strongly recommend doing that. But if you want a little more information about the novella’s setting and merits, this review does t... Read More

Galactic Patrol: Book 3 of one of the greatest space operas

Galactic Patrol by E. E. “Doc” Smith

After almost 500 pages of back story … after a history of the conflict between the superraces of Arisia and Eddore that stretches back 2 billion years, and includes glimpses of Earth’s lost continent of Atlantis and the Holy Roman Empire … after at least six major space battles, explorations of any number of bizarre worlds, a look at how the Galactic Patrol was formed and how the mysterious, Arisian artifact known as the Lens was obtained by the Patrol … after campaigns against drug smugglers, dirty politicos and space pirates … after all of this and much more, E. E. “Doc” Smith’s legendary LENSMAN space opera finally begins in earnest, in Book 3 of the six-part epic, Galactic Patrol.

As I mentioned in my reviews of the first two books, Read More

Marvel 1985: A realistic superhero story

Marvel 1985 by Mark Millar

In Marvel 1985, Mark Millar tells us the story of comics coming to real life. Young Toby Goodman sees the Red Skull one day, and wonders if his eyes might be deceiving him, but after he sees a few more Marvel characters, he realizes that the super-villains from the Marvel Universe are invading our reality. He encounters the Hulk at one point, but mainly it’s the bad guys coming to his small town: Ultron, the Blob, Sandman, and many more villains appear and begin to kill indiscriminately. But things really seem bad when the planet-destroying Galactus shows up. We begin to wonder who the mastermind is behind this invasion.

Why is this story so good? Because it’s grounded in the reality of a young boy’s daily struggles: Toby’s parents are divorced, and he doesn’t like his stepdad. He seems to get enjoyment only by escaping through comics, going to the comics shop, and han... Read More

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter: We like it

Reposting to include Skye's new review.

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss

In The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter (2017), Theodora Goss has created something really exciting and rewarding: a novel that pays homage to the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century works of speculative fiction which inform every standard the modern incarnation of the genre is judged by, and yet stands on its own as a twenty-first century creation.

The epigraph — “Here be monsters” — and a subsequent recorded exchange between Mary and Catherine set the scene: The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter is a collaborative effort, though by whom and for what purpose is not immediately plain. First we are introduced to Mary Jekyll, recently orph... Read More

The Kingdom of Copper: Strong follow-up to The City of Brass

The Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty

I thoroughly enjoyed S. A. Chakraborty’s first book The City of Brass, which was at its core just a good story. I’m happy to report that the follow-up, The Kingdom of Copper (2019), is even better, continuing the captivating narrative but also deepening its exploration of the more serious themes that were apparent in book one but not fully mined. Fair warning: some unavoidable spoilers for the first book to follow. I’m also going to assume you’ve read The City of Brass and so won’t go into too many explanations of people/settings.

The Kingdom of Copper picks up not long after the events of Th... Read More

The Hod King: You need to be reading this series!

The Hod King by Josiah Bancroft

If you haven’t read Senlin Ascends and Arm of the Sphinx yet: Please stop here and go get them. I recommend Hachette Audio’s versions because they are absolutely brilliantly performed by John Banks. Read the rest of this review at your own risk — there will be mild spoilers for Senlin Ascends and Arm of the Sphinx in my review.

I am so conflicted. For some reason I just assumed that Josiah Bancroft’s BOOKS OF BABEL was going to be a trilogy and that The... Read More

The Thief of Forthe and Other Stories: The successor to Robert E. Howard

The Thief of Forthe and Other Stories by Clifford Ball

If I were to ask 1,000 people what the words “Clifford Ball” meant to them, those to whom it meant anything, I have a feeling, would reply that the Clifford Ball was the first weekendlong concert bash that the jam band Phish ever held, back in August ’96, in Plattsburgh, N.Y. Fewer, perhaps, would know that the provenance for the name of that shindig was the aviation pioneer Clifford Ball, whose moniker the Phish folks thought would be a cool and punny handle for their event. But it is not of these two Clifford Balls that I would speak here, but rather of another: Clifford Ball the author, whose claim to fame today is his being the first writer to continue on in the sword-and-sorcery tradition after the suicide of Robert E. Howard in 1936. If you have not previously heard of Clifford Ball the w... Read More

The Sapphire Goddess: A very fine and long overdue collection

The Sapphire Goddess: The Fantasies of Nictzin Dyalhis by Nictzin Dyalhis

Unless you have perused the pages of the dozen or so Weird Tales anthologies that have been released over the past 50-plus years, odds are that you have not come across the name “Nictzin Dyalhis.” But during the 15-year period 1925 - 1940, Dyalhis was extraordinarily popular with the readers of that legendary pulp magazine, despite the fact that he only had eight stories published therein during that decade and a half. And of those eight, four were voted by the readers as the most popular of the issues in which they appeared, and five of them copped the front-cover illustration. This reader had previously encountered three of those tales in various anthologies, had loved them all, and was curious to read more. The only problem was, an anthology of Dyalhis’ work had never been compiled, until the fine folks at DMR released, this past summer, ... Read More

Wild Seed: Two African immortals battle for supremacy in early America

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Wild Seed by Octavia Butler

Wild Seed (1980) was written last in Octavia Butler’s 5-book PATTERNIST series, but comes first in chronology. The next books, by internal chronology, are Mind of My Mind (1977), Clay’s Ark (1984), and Patternmaster (1976). Butler was later unsatisfied with Survivor (1978) and elected to not have it reprinted, so I will focus on the main four volumes. Wild Seed is an origin story set well before later books and can stand on its own. It’s one of those books whose basic plot could be described in just a few paragraphs, but the themes it explores are deep, challenging, and thought-provoki... Read More

Deliver Me From Eva: A flabbergasting thrill ride

Deliver Me From Eva by Paul Bailey

Once again, I am indebted to Stephen Jones and Kim Newman’s excellent overview volume Horror: 100 Best Books for alerting me to the existence of a great read that I probably would never have run across without their assistance. In this case, the novel in question is Paul Bailey’s Deliver Me From Eva, which was chosen for inclusion in that volume by no less a figure than Forrest J. Ackerman — former editor of the beloved magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland, renowned literary agent, and legendary collector of horror and sci-fi movie memorabilia — himself. The book, Ackerman tells us, was one that he first read upon its initial publication in 1946, but had never forgotten, and any reader of this absolutely flabbergasting thrill ride will surely understand why.

Paul Bailey, I should perhap... Read More

Fire & Heist: An easy contender for Best YA of 2018

Fire & Heist by Sarah Beth Durst

I’d only previously read Sarah Beth Dursts QUEENS OF RENTHIA series, so I was excited to have the chance to read Fire & Heist (2018), her latest YA novel. I never know whether an author whose adult work is enjoyable will write well for a young adult audience — or vice versa — but I’m pleased to be able to report that Durst is clearly adept at writing for any age group, and particularly so for nerdy readers.

Sky Hawkins is the kind of leading character many readers would love to hate. She comes from a family who “owned at one time a fleet of Aston Martins and [gave] the gardener his own Tesla,” and readily acknowledges that she might seem like just another “poor little rich girl” in Aspen, Colorado who deserves “the world’s smallest ... Read More

SAGA Volume 3: This series is so addictive!

SAGA Volume 3, Issues 13-18 by Brian K. Vaughan (author) & Fiona Staples (illustrator)

This highly original space opera romance is incredibly popular, and for good reason. Anyone who has read Saga Vols 1 & 2 will undoubtedly be fans of star-crossed lovers Alana & Marko, who come from opposing sides of a galactic war, Marko’s sharp-tongued mother Klara, freelancer assassin The Will and his lie-detecting cat, and Marko’s ex-fiance Gwendolyn. Not to mention the difficult-to-hate Prince Robot IV and all the other bizarre creations of Vaughan and Staples. The authors have continued to breath life into their fresh, genre-bending blend of space opera, romance, family drama, and chase amid a galactic war tale with an amazingly effortless sense of humor. What I like most about this series is their willingness to go off on weird story tangents without losing the momentum of the larger story.

Witho... Read More

A Conspiracy of Truths: Interesting debut novel from a writer to watch

A Conspiracy of Truths by Alexandra Rowland

Marion: We never know the name of our first-person narrator in Alexandra Rowland’s 2018 novel A Conspiracy of Truths. People call him Chant, but that is his vocation, not a name (he abandoned his name when he became a Chant). Chants gather stories and retell them. They go from place to place pursuing their craft, and in the isolated and insular country of Nuryevet, Chants offends the wrong people, and is put on trial for witchcraft.

As soon as he opens his mouth to defend himself, Chant makes things worse, and he’s imprisoned and facing a death sentence. His publicly appointed advocate, Consanza, is a reluctant helper at best, and certainly not an ally. Worse, Chant has come to the attention of several of the Primes, the elected rules of Nuryevet — in particular, the Queen of Pattern (think CIA). He uses the only tool ava... Read More

How to Love the Universe: A Scientist’s Odes to the Hidden Beauty Behind the Visible World

How to Love the Universe: A Scientist’s Odes to the Hidden Beauty Behind the Visible World by Stefan Klein

In How to Love the Universe: A Scientist’s Odes to the Hidden Beauty Behind the Visible World (2018), Stefan Klein concisely introduces nearly a dozen major physics concepts in brief, engaging chapters that clearly inform even as they often entertain. Due to their brevity, the explanations are relatively simplified, but thanks to Klein’s economy of language and knack for analogy/metaphor, not overly so. Which makes the collection of essays a good primer to modern physics and an excellent stepping stone into longer, more substantive works on the subject.

The theme of the book is conveyed directly in the introduction, where Klein discusses how modern physics “changes our thinking, the way we see the world ... [allows us] to look behind the veil of that which still seems self-ev... Read More

Alice Isn’t Dead: Anxiety Bros, unite!

Alice Isn’t Dead by Joseph Fink

Alice Isn’t Dead (2018) is a stand-alone novel, adapted from the three-season podcast of the same name, both of which were created by Joseph Fink. Where I would have given the podcast 3.5 stars, the novel is much more cohesive and much more successful at telling this story. Lines like “Earl’s eyes were empty pools of water” and “The subtext of America wasn’t just text here, it was in letters five feet tall” are less awkward, more natural, when delivered by an omniscient narrator rather than a lone woman monologuing over a CB radio to anyone who will listen.

Keisha Taylor wasn’t always a long-haul trucker. But then, her wife Alice wasn’t always dead. (Or is she? It’s certainly up for debate, which is why Keisha’s on the road to begin with.) One day, without any ... Read More

La Belle Sauvage: Our different opinions

La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

I always find it a little nerve-wracking when an author returns to a successful series after a long time away. There's always the fear, for me at least, that one of two things is going to happen: either the author will be nostalgic about the original work to the extent that s/he makes the new book into a fawning tribute without substance, or the author will have changed enough in the time between installments that the magic is just gone. I'm happy to say, though, that Philip Pullman's new novel dispels both of those fears. La Belle Sauvage (2017) is, though not quite as much a game-changer as The Golden Compass, still a fantastic novel in its own right and a great opener to THE BOOK OF ... Read More

No Sleep Till Doomsday: This series fires on all cylinders

No Sleep Till Doomsday by Laurence MacNaughton

No Sleep Till Doomsday (2018), the third installment in Laurence MacNaughton’s DRU JASPER series, delivers all the excitement, action, romance and humor I expect from these books — plus, it brings in a new muscle-car who is an ancient rival of the speed-demon Hellbringer, and I’ve come to love Hellbringer.

Dru is a crystal sorceress in Denver, Colorado, who together with a group of allies is trying to stop the breaking of the seals on the Apocalypse Scroll and the resulting Doomsday. Dru is aided by her demonically possessed boyfriend Greyson, who drives Hellbringer; her friend Rane, who can turn herself into metal or stone; and her non-magical but knowledgeable store employee, Opal. She is sometimes aided and more often hindered by Salem... Read More

Magic Triumphs: Wrapping up the KATE DANIELS adventures

Magic Triumphs by Ilona Andrews

Kate Daniels, after nine novels’ worth of fighting magical villains, romancing Curran the Beast Lord, developing her own über-magical powers and preternatural sword-fighting abilities, and magically claiming all of Atlanta as her territory (and that’s only a start), gets an ending to her story in Magic Triumphs (2018), the tenth and final book in Ilona Andrews’ popular KATE DANIELS series. Well, kind of.

Kate is married to Curran now, who’s passed his title as Beast Lord on to Jim. After a very brief prologue in which Kate gives birth, the story jumps forward in time thirteen months, when their son Conlan is a precocious one year old whose antics keep his parents hopping. He still hasn’t started shapeshifting, which is causing Atlanta’s Pack to... Read More

Bloody Rose: An excellent sequel

Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames

On the face of it, Bloody Rose (2018) is a lot like Kings of the Wyld, the first novel in Nicholas Eames' THE BAND series: it's still following the original's fun premise (i.e. "questing bands are basically just rock bands, complete with touring and groupies"), and it boasts much of the same humor, heart, and hard-rock-cafe sensibility. It also carries on the tradition of being, you know, awfully good. But there are some notable changes lurking under the surface. Bloody Rose is the kind of sequel that tries to go bigger and darker than the first, the Empire Strikes Back to the original's Star Wars. And I'm happy to say it's quite successful.

... Read More

Moon of the Crusted Snow: History repeats itself as the world ends

Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice

History, legacy, identity, family, and community are all at stake against the backdrop of the modern world coming quietly to an end in Waubgeshig Rice’s slim, but powerful, novel Moon of the Crusted Snow (2018). Survival isn’t just an issue of preparation here — in order for any one person to thrive, the community must be strong; in order for the community to survive, each person must contribute unselfishly. Human nature being what it is, unfortunately, that’s often easier said than done.

As winter draws near, Evan Whitesky and many other members of his small Anishinaabe community are stocking up supplies, food, and firewood. The electricity, television, and phone services the reservation receives from nearby Canadian suppliers aren’t always reliable, so the tribal council places an imperative on being as self-sufficient as possible. B... Read More

Alabaster (Volumes I and II): A dark but compelling story

Alabaster (Volumes I and II) by Osamu Tezuka



Alabaster (Volumes I and II), written by Osamu Tezuka in 1970 and published in 2015 by Digital Manga, Inc., is a dark but compelling story that touches on the evils of which humankind are capable and the resentment and desire for revenge that results in those who are mistreated. Alabaster’s story allows Tezuka to critique bigotry, specifically focusing on racism in the United States. James Block, a young African-American gold-medal winning Olympic athlete, turned into Alabaster because of his experience with the woman he loved as a young man. After a year of dating, James Block proposes to Susan Ross, only to be laughed at, mocked, and turned down by her because he was a black man. She displays shock that he would even imagine that she would stoop to marry ... Read More

The Euphrates Tree: Deals with serious topics of great importance

The Euphrates Tree by Osamu Tezuka

The Euphrates Tree is written and drawn by the great Osamu Tezuka, who is known as the “God of Comics.” Tezuka warns us in the postscript not to take this story too seriously; however, I am afraid I will have to go against his advice, because I believe this volume of manga deals with serious topics of great importance. It is about three high school students who visit Jova Island and discover the mysterious Euphrates tree. The tree bears fruit that, if eaten, will give the person or animal great powers and heightened intelligence, but the one aspect of a person that is not changed is their sense of morality.

The three children — Oya, Kama, and Shiko — go to the island for their biology class to study a primitive forest. Tezuka suggests that the island has religious associations for us since at times, he hints that it shares qualities in common with the Garden of E... Read More

Summers at Castle Auburn: A lovely YA romance

Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn

Summers at Castle Auburn (2001) was my first exposure to Sharon Shinn's fantasies, and it was pretty much insta-love for me (I like to think that Shinn returns my affections in a distant and anonymous fan-appreciation kind of way). It instantly set me off on a search for more of her books.

Corie is the teenaged illegitimate daughter of a nobleman who died before the story begins, but the royal family is still keeping close tabs on her. Most of the time she lives with her grandmother in a remote village, learning medicinal herbs and a bit of witchery from her. But her summers are spent with the royal family in Castle Auburn.

We follow Corie over the next several years as she hangs out with her half-sister Elisandra; Bryan, the stunningly good-looking ― and kn... Read More

The Silence of the Girls: Powerful retelling of The Iliad from the female perspective

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

Toward the end of Pat Barker’s newest novel, her main character Briseis thinks to herself:

“Yes, the death of young men in battle is a tragedy ... worthy of any number of laments — but theirs is not the worst fate. I looked at Andromache, who’d have to live the rest of her amputated life as a slave, and I thought: We need a new song.

The eloquently powerful The Silence of the Girls (2018) is Barker’s attempt to create just that, and she just about nails it.

Barker’s novel is a re-telling of Homer’s The Iliad, told mostly from the point of view of Briseis, the young girl taken by Achilles as a spoil of war and then later taken from him by Agamemnon as compensation for having to give up his own “prize” when her priest-father calls down the anger of Apollo on the Greek... Read More