4.5

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

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), and 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 has ... 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

King Kull: The Sword & Sorcery genre begins here

King Kull by Robert E. Howard & Lin Carter

There’s a reason why I never lend out books anymore, even to my closest friends; namely, the fact that when I used to loan them out, I never got them back in the same good condition, or, even worse, never got them back at all. Cases in point: three paperbacks from one of my old favorite writers, Texas-born Robert E. Howard. Back in the mid-‘60s, Lancer Books released all of Howard’s Conan the Barbarian stories in a now-classic series of 12 paperbacks, as well as a beautiful paperback of another legendary Howard character, King Kull. I owned all 13 of those wonderful volumes, and made the big mistake of lending the first two Conan books out (both featuring gorgeous cover artwork by Frank Frazetta), as well as the Kull (feat... Read More

War Girls: War is hell

War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi

Onyii is a battle-hardened soldier, weary of war.

She’s 15.

Her adopted sister, Ify, is even younger and a budding tech genius. The two live in a rebel compound of Biafran girls, hidden by a signal dampener from the Nigerian government. Tochi Onyebuchi gives the reader a little quiet time in the camp, to meet the characters and learn about the technologies they use — and then the camp is discovered, and a riveting battle scene begins. Onyii and Ify are separated, swept apart into two very different lives on opposite sides of the war, each believing the other dead. They will meet again four years later, as enemies.

War Girls (2019) is based on the real-life Nigerian Civil War, but moved forward into the 22nd century. There are cybernetic body enhancements, maglev ca... Read More

Blackwater: A unique horror saga

Blackwater: The Complete Saga by Michael McDowell

Michael McDowell originally published the BLACKWATER horror series in six volumes (The Flood, The Levee, The House, The War, The Fortune, and Rain) in 1983. Some of the installments go for a pretty penny on the Internet these days, so it’s great that Valancourt Press released an omnibus edition, Blackwater: The Complete Saga (2017). This edition is the most cost-effective way to get your hands on this sprawling tale.

Blackwater is set in the town of Perdido, Alabama and tells the story of a lumber dynasty, the Caskeys, between 1919 and 1970. It begins when the scion of the family, Oscar, finds a young woman, Elinor, stranded in the town’s h... Read More

Catalyst: An incredible journey

Catalyst by Sarah Beth Durst

Just before her twelfth birthday, Zoe finds an impossibly small, breathtakingly cute kitten hiding behind her parents’ garage. Having been forbidden from bringing home any more animal rescues — and there have been many — the obvious course of action is for Zoe to sneak the kitten into her bedroom, text photos to her best friend Harrison, and go eat cake. The next day, she tells her family about the new arrival (christened Pipsqueak) and, to her great joy, she’s finally allowed to keep this one. After all, Zoe’s beloved brother Alex is making plans for college courses in Paris, her mom is starting a new job with the mayor’s office, and her dad is renovating part of the house.
“You all have something you’re excited about,” Zoe pleaded. “… I think … I need something that’s mine?”
But two days later, Pipsqueak is the size of a full-grown cat, and she keeps growing. And t... Read More

The Book of Koli: Has pretty much everything I want

The Book of Koli by M.R. Carey

Koli lives in a far-future post-apocalyptic England. He has never been beyond the walls of Mythen Rood, his tiny village, because outside are wild animals, vicious plants, and who knows what other dangers. The leaders of Mythen Rood are the Ramparts, a small group of people who have magic that allows them to work the salvaged technology of the ancient humans who used to be masters of the Earth (that's us).

When kids in Mythen Rood turn 15 years old, the Ramparts test them to see if they have the magic to work the technology. If they do, the kids join the Ramparts. If not, they’re relegated to lower jobs. After Koli fails to pass the test, he discovers a secret the Ramparts have been hiding from the villagers. Then, after stealing some technology from the Ramparts, Koli is banished from Mythen Rood.

Koli is completely unprepared to be in the wilderness on his own -- he has no idea wha... Read More

The Grand Tour: Strange, dangerous and seductive

The Grand Tour by E. Catherine Tobler

E. Catherine Tobler created Jackson’s Unreal Circus and Mobile Marmalade, a carnival/circus where things are not necessarily what they seem… or in some cases, exactly what they seem, no matter how strange that might be. The stories appeared in places like Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and now, in The Grand Tour: A Jackson’s Unreal Circus and Mobile Marmalade Collection (2020), Apex has gathered up nine of the tales, which traverse earth and time, as we meet Jackson and the people who find their way to the circus, and a few who leave, or seem to.

Story collections can be dicey. Fortunately, Tobler’s prose is excellent, and every one of these stories is filled with beautiful, beguiling language, powerful imagery, and complex characters, whether they are magical o... Read More

Shorefall: Come for the heists and explosions, stay for the debates

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett

Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Once upon a time there was a small group of uber-powerful folks who truly messed up the world. Luckily that was ages, sorry, I mean, Ages, ago. But now one of those ancient badass power users is potentially going to return and hoo boy is the world in trouble if he gathers all his power yet again. Thank the gods for the plucky group of scruffy underdogs who are definitely not a fellowship and who have decided to risk their lives to prevent the Dark Power’s rise. Anyone? Bueller?

OK, yes. We’ve all heard it before. So you might be forgiven if, upon learning that Robert Jackson Bennett’s newest title, Shorefall (sequel to the fantastic Read More

Jack: Horror during the London Blitz

Jack by Connie Willis

Subterranean Press is reissuing Connie Willis’s moody and bleak novella Jack (1991), which was a finalist for the Nebula and Hugo awards and has appeared in several anthologies over the years. It’s set during the London Blitz in WWII, one of Willis’ favorite settings for her works, including the time-travel novels Blackout and All Clear and the Nebula and Hugo award-winning novelette Fire Watch. Once again, there’s something peculiar going on during the Blitz … but this time it’s not just time travelers visiting from the future.

Jack Harker is p... Read More

Entangled Life: Zombie ants, psychedelic trips, even a Star Trek connection

Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake

Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures (2020), by Merlin Sheldrake, is an always informative and often fascinating look at the (mostly) hidden world of fungi. There’s a lot more to them than those shitakes you’re adding to your stir-fry and Sheldrake makes for an enthusiastic tour guide to all that lies beyond the edible mushroom (though he touches on those too).

Sheldrake begins with truffles (he goes on a truffle hunt with a couple of dogs and their trainer) and uses this early part to introduce us to the basics of fungal life and their development on Earth. Like the entirety of the book, this section is filled with choice details (a 2 to 8000-yr-old fungus in Oregon taking up ten square kilometers and weighing in at hundreds of tons, the fungi growing o... Read More