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Abaddon’s Gate: A great ride!

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Abaddon’s Gate by James S.A. Corey

After reading the first two books in James S. A. Corey’s EXPANSE series, Leviathan Wakes and Caliban’s War, I came to book three, Abaddon’s Gate, with some pretty solid expectations. How did Corey (really Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) do, based on strengths I highlighted in reviews of the first two books?

fluid prose: check
likable characters: check
mostly strong characterization: check
humor that runs throughout: check
a nice balance of shoot-em-up action, political fighting, and personal conflicts: check, check, and check
a quick pace that had me knock of a 500+ page book in a single setting: check
a feel (in a good way) of old-time sci-fi along the likes of Heinlein or Asimov: check Read More

Thick as Thieves: The theft of a slave

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Thick as Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner

Note: This review contains some spoilers for the second book in the QUEEN'S THIEF series, The Queen of Attolia.

In Thick as Thieves (2017), the long-awaited fifth book in Megan Whalen Turner’s QUEEN’S THIEF series, the setting shifts away from the peninsula where Eddis, Attolia and Sounis are, to another country in this world, the Mede Empire, which has long been nursing not-so-secret plans to conquer and annex the peninsula. Kamet is a valuable secretary and slave to Nahuseresh, former Mede ambassador to Attolia and neph... Read More

White Hot: Turning up the heat

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White Hot by Ilona Andrews

Note: this review contains some spoilers for the first book in this series, Burn for Me.

In White Hot (2017), the second book in Ilona AndrewsHIDDEN LEGACY urban fantasy series, we return to a magical version of Houston, Texas, where some people (typically the rich and powerful) have inheritable magical powers. Nevada Baylor is from a not-particularly wealthy family that runs a private investigation firm, but she and some other members of her family have magical powers that are suspiciously strong for a family with no reputation at all as magic users. Actually, Nevada is a rare truthseeker: she not only knows when others are lyin... Read More

Return to the Stars: In H’Harn’s way

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Return to the Stars by Edmond Hamilton

For those readers who thrilled to the exploits of 20th century Earthman John Gordon in the futuristic galaxy of 202,115, in Edmond Hamilton’s first novel, The Star Kings (1949), the wait to find out just what might happen next would prove to be a long one. Ultimately, though, their patience was rewarded with Hamilton’s much-belated sequel, Return to the Stars (1969). Unlike the original novel, which was released all at once and comprised the entire 9/47 issue of Amazing Stories magazine, the sequel was what is known as a fix-up novel, having as its provenance four separate stories that Hamilton skillfully cobbled together into one cohesive... Read More

Tyrant’s Throne: A near-perfect close to a great series

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Tyrant’s Throne by Sebastien de Castell

De Castell turned to Kest. “How would you rate our chances?”

Kest rifled through the manuscript. “We’ll get four and five-star reviews and show up on a dozen Best of the Year lists, after which you’ll get one, no two, major nominations. People will be very sad it’s over and will repeatedly beg you for more. Falcio will appear on five or six ‘Best Characters in a Series’ lists, which won’t do much for his humility, I hate to say.”

“I’ll have you know I have the best humility of anyone.”

“My point exactly. I’ll get a Top 10 mention on a list of Best Swordsperson in a fantasy work, but poor Brasti will almost certainly be forgotten, unless someone makes a list of ‘Characters Who You Only Remember as ‘That Other Guy.’”

Brasti glanced up from polishing his bow.
Read More

Black Dog: YA werewolf fantasy with a Latino spin

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Black Dog by Rachel Neumeier

Black Dog (2014) is a YA urban fantasy that takes the werewolf shapeshifter subgenre and puts some unusual spins on it. The teenage Toland siblings, 15½ year old twins Natividad and Miguel and their 18 year old brother Alejandro, have been orphaned in their Mexico home by a mass attack of enemy black dog shapeshifters led by their father’s long-time enemy. Alejandro is a black dog, Miguel is a normal human, and Natividad is what is known as a "Pure," one of the rare girls born with magical powers, including the ability to cast protective spells and to quiet the wild shadow that is an inseverable part of those who are black dogs.

When their Mexican mother and American father both die in the attack, the three siblings follow their father’s last instructions: leave Mexico and travel all the way to Vermont, where there is a strong p... Read More

River of Teeth: Bear in mind, please, that this isn’t a caper

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River of Teeth
by Sarah Gailey

River of Teeth (2017) is Sarah Gailey’s first novella-length work, and if the idea of a gonzo queer alt-history hippo extravaganza doesn’t immediately set your imagination aflame, then perhaps rich character work and a thoroughly convincing atmosphere will do the trick. Beyond that, there’s a caper (which Mr. Winslow Remington Houndstooth would like everyone to know is an operation) and a whole lot of revenge to be had.

Let’s travel back in time, shall we? Back to America in the late 19th-century, when a portion of the lower Mississippi River was dammed off and given over to a terrifying population of feral hippos, the kind who enjoy noshing on a human’s viscera; a time when women and genderfluid individuals of various races had a little more equality with the white men around them; a time when ri... Read More

A Storm of Wings: Strange, outlandish, blurry

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

A Storm of Wings by M. John Harrison

A Storm of Wings is the second part of M. John Harrison’s VIRICONIUM sequence. Viriconium has been at peace for eighty years after the threat from the north was eliminated, but now there are new threats to the city. Something has detached from the moon and fallen to earth. A huge insect head has been discovered in one of the towns of the Reborn. The Reborn are starting to go mad. Also, a new rapidly growing cult is teaching that there is no objective reality. Are the strange events linked with the cult’s nihilistic philosophy? And what will this do to Viriconium’s peace? Tomb the dwarf and Cellur the Birdlord, whom we met in The Pastel City, set out to discover the truth.

A Storm of Wings... Read More

Chocky: Wyndham goes out on a high note

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Chocky by John Wyndham

Following the publication of 1960’s Trouble With Lichen, fans of the hugely popular English sci-fi writer John Wyndham would have to wait a good solid eight years for his next novel to be released. During that time, the author limited himself to the shorter form, coming out with 10 stories. One of those short stories was “Chocky,” which initially appeared in the March ’63 issue of the legendary American magazine Amazing Stories, which had been started by author and editor Hugo Gernsback back in 1926. Wyndham later expanded “Chocky,” and the result was his final book to be published before his untimely passing. As had so many other of the author’s previous works, the no... Read More

Certain Dark Things: I thought I was tired of vampires; then I read this

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Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

I’ve gotten tired of vampires. All too often, their social models are those of decadent, louche aristocrats with their courts and their bloodsucking royalty, or mafia-like crime lords. There isn’t much new about the process of drinking blood, either; they host a demon; or they are demons, or they have a virus. (Yawn.) I didn’t think anyone could make vampires interesting for me again until I read Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Certain Dark Things. Her vampires are crime lords, but not mafia; they run narco-cartels, and Certain Dark Things (2016) tells a story about a vampire and her human sidekick in a way that is gritty, romantic, action-y and new.

Moreno-Garcia’s story choices range from the R... Read More

Deadly Class (Vol. 1): Reagan Youth by Rick Remender (An Oxford College Student Review!)

In this new column, I’ll be featuring comic book reviews written by my students at Oxford College of Emory University. Oxford College is a small liberal arts school just outside of Atlanta, Georgia. I challenge students to read and interpret comics because I believe sequential art and visual literacy are essential parts of education at any level (see my Manifesto!). I’ll be posting the best of my students’ reviews in this column. Today, I am proud to present a review by Njeri Thomas. 

Njeri Thomas is a freshman pursuing a degree in psychology with the intent to go to medical school. She calls Houston, Texas home and loves reading, theater, and art. In the future, Njeri wishes to become a child psychiatrist and possibly an actress.

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Deadly Class (V... Read More

Brimstone: The Queen of Southern Gothic delivers again

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Brimstone by Cherie Priest

Brimstone (2017) is a throwback to some of Cherie Priest’s earlier work in theme and in setting. The story takes place in Florida, this time in Cassadaga, a real town which, like Lily Dale in northern New York, was founded by spiritualists. Cassadaga still exists and still draws the public for psychic readings, classes and attempts to contact deceased loved ones. In Brimstone, Alice Dartle comes to Cassadaga to learn about her own psychic gift, and Tomas Corderos flees there in an attempt to escape a terrifying spirit of fire, which soon puts the whole town in danger.

The book is set in 1920; both World War I and Prohibition play their parts in the story. What I loved best were the two main characters and their contra... Read More

Borne: A moving and thoughtful work

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Borne by Jeff VanderMeer

Amorphous shapeshifting blobs, winged children, and giant flying bears, oh my. Jeff VanderMeer’s Borne (2017) is a lyrical and lovely novel whose stylistic aplomb, weird inventiveness, and great heart more than compensate for what might have ordinarily been noted as flaws in the book. Sure, there are issues, but I loved nearly every minute of Borne, and if it hadn’t come in the same month I’d finished the exceptional City of Miracles and A Gentleman in Moscow, it would have been my best read of the month.

Borne is told from the first-person perspective of Rachel, a scavenger trying to survive a post-apocalyptic world in the near-ruins o... Read More

Lois Lane: Triple Threat: An excellent continuation of this series

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Lois Lane: Triple Threat
by Gwenda Bond

Gwenda Bond’s inimitable LOIS LANE series continues with Lois Lane: Triple Threat (2017), as old threats rear their myriad ugly heads and new experiences bring opportunities for stress, “sports ball,” and flowers. (Don’t worry, it’ll all make sense soon enough.) Each book in this series builds on the previous installments, so even though there’s enough exposition to keep previous events fresh in the reader’s mind, I heavily recommend reading them in chronological order.

Six months have passed since the events of Double Down, and Lois Lane is itching for a story; life in Metropolis has been boringly une... Read More

Agent of the Crown: The princess spy

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Agent of the Crown by Melissa McShane

Agent of the Crown (2016), the third book in Melissa McShane’s CROWN OF TREMONTANE fantasy series, shifts to a third generation of the royal North family: Princess Telaine North Hunter has been secretly working for her uncle, the king of Tremontane, as a spy for the last nine years, since she was 15. She’s deliberately created a public image as a frivolous, bubble-headed socialite, while she works behind the scenes to uncover plots against her country. Only the king and her maid (who is also an agent) are aware of her double identity. Telaine’s job is made somewhat easier by an inherent magical talent that she also guards as a close secret: she can instantly tell if anyone is lying directly to her. (A lie is indicated by bold font in the text, a trick that took me a few pages to catch on to.)

One night... Read More

Norse Mythology: A master storyteller relays the myths he loves

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Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman makes no secret of his love of Norse mythology and folklore. It shows up over and over in his fiction (Sandman, American Gods, Odd and the Frost Giants to name a few); and he has mentioned his love of the stories in interviews and essays. In Norse Mythology (2017), Gaiman puts his distinctive narrative voice in service to this mythological cycle and tells us the tales of the beginnings of the Norse gods, all the way through to beyond their ending, the dre... Read More

Wonder Woman by Jill Thompson

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Wonder Woman by Jill Thompson

Wonder Woman by Jill Thompson is the story of Diana’s life before she becomes the superhero we all know and love. Jill Thompson is the recipient of seven Eisner awards and is well-known for her work on Sandman with Neil Gaiman. Her artistic style can vary greatly, and in this comic she uses one that lends the tale the quality of a myth told many times, which suits this graphic novel perfectly since Thompson shows us Wonder Woman’s coming-of-age, and young Diana exists in the first place only because of intervention on the part of Greek... Read More

Lincoln in the Bardo: A uniquely structured tale of great empathy

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Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

I’ve long been a huge fan of George Saunders’ short stories, which I consider to be generally brilliant both individually and taken as a whole in terms of their commentary on this world and the strange creatures (us) who inhabit it. That commentary is often a blend of satirical fireworks and a warmer, more human exploration of the human condition, and it is the latter of those two that one recognizes most often in his first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, though Saunders doesn’t wholly dispense with the darkly comical.

The precipitating event for Lincoln in the Bardo is the death in 1862 of 11-year-old Willie Lincoln and his entombment in a Georgetown Cemetery, and Abraham Lincoln’s ensuing grief, expressed by several visits to the tomb that go so far as to see him removing th... Read More

Deadline: Couldn’t stop reading

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Reposting to include Jana's new review.

Deadline by Mira Grant

I advise against reading this review if you haven’t yet read Mira Grant’s Feed, the first volume in her Newsflesh trilogy, but intend to. The review necessarily contains spoilers, without which discussing the second volume, Deadline, would be impossible.

Deadline (2011) picks up several months after the end of Feed (2010). The first-person narrator, Shaun Mason, is not the same since the death of his sister by his hand, after she had been infected by the virus that causes one to become a zombie. Not only is he no longer an Irwin (a journalist who courts danger, usually by going out into the field to poke zombies with... Read More

Void Star: An ambitious, richly imagined world of wealthy, poor and AIs

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Void Star by Zachary Mason

Void Star (2017) is a brilliant, dense and challenging hard science fiction novel with a literary bent, rich in descriptions and imagery. It’s set in a relatively near future, perhaps a hundred years or so in our future. The chapters alternate between the viewpoints of three characters from vastly different social strata:

Irina has a vanishingly rare type of cranial implant that enables her to communicate wirelessly with computers, from the simplest electronic devices to the most complex artificial intelligences, in addition to giving her perfect recall ― a true photographic memory. She’s an independent consultant who acts as a troubleshooter for people who are having trouble with their information systems and AIs. But now her latest employer, a vastly wealthy and powerful tycoon, is mounting a chillingly deadly effort to captu... Read More

Feed: One more zombie novel?

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Reposting to include Jana's new review.

Feed by Mira Grant

I have grown weary of zombies. In the past five years, everyone started writing zombie novels, apparently out of ennui at the thought of writing yet another variation on vampires, and that was good. But the mass of zombie material all seemed to hit the market at the same time, and it was too much, too undiluted, with too many books that weren’t good enough to be worth reading. Soon I was avoiding any book that purported to be about zombies, because, hey, enough already.

So when Mira Grant’s Feed came on the market, I was not inclined to read it, especially because it was published in that really annoying new taller and thinner paperback format — it’s less comfortable in the hand and it... Read More

Geekerella: Sweet and fluffy, but with a surprising depth

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Geekerella
by Ashley Poston

Ashley Poston’s debut novel Geekerella (2017) is definitely not just another Cinderella revision. Classic elements of the familiar story are all present in one shape or another, but Poston brings a distinctly nerd-friendly flair to her tale, and modernizes the characters in ways that turn impossible archetypes into accessible, complicated people.

Danielle “Elle” Wittimer lives with her stepmother and twin stepsisters in a crumbling old Charleston, SC house. Sadly, her mother died when Elle was just four years old, and her beloved father passed away shortly after remarrying, granting legal custody of both Elle and the home to his second wife. Catherine is, to put it nicely, a selfish social climber who spends money she doesn’t have on country club memberships for her daughters while forcing Elle to perform menia... Read More

The Great Explosion: One of the funniest sci-fi novels that I’ve ever read

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The Great Explosion by Eric Frank Russell

In his 1955 collection entitled Men, Martians and Machines, English sci-fi author Eric Frank Russell told, via one short story and three novellas, some of the adventures of a starship crew that strongly suggested nothing less than a proto-Star Trek ensemble. The collection featured visits to three very different sorts of planets, in which the men, Martians, and robot of the starship Marathon came up against a world of mechanical devices; a world of green-skinned inhabitants, lethal trees and giant snakes; and a world of ropy creatures with the power to induce hypnotic hallucinations. Apparently, Russell liked the episodic nature of the collecti... Read More

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

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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

Silence Fallen: Mercy gets a free trip to Europe

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Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs

It’s pirating night in the werewolf house, and Mercy, a coyote skinwalker married to Adam, the handsome Alpha of the Columbia Basin werewolf pack, quickly gets killed out of the werewolf pack's computer-based pirate LARP game. She heads to the kitchen to make a double-quadruple batch of chocolate chip cookies for the pack (her habit of baking treats after being exiting the game having more than a little to do with why someone always kills her off early in these games). Only, there are no eggs in the house, even though she’d had four dozen in the fridge two days ago. Werewolves are a hungry bunch. So Mercy makes a quick run to the local convenience store. Her last memory is getting hit by the airbags in her SUV.

When Mercy wakes up, she's imprisoned and alone in a strange, metallic-shee... Read More