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The Emerald Circus: An imaginative three-ring show

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The Emerald Circus by Jane Yolen

Under the big top of The Emerald Circus (2017) is a fantastical assemblage of sixteen short stories and novelettes by Jane Yolen. Historical figures like Emily Dickinson, Benjamin Disraeli, Hans Christian Andersen and Edgar Allen Poe enter the three rings and shed their normal identities, dancing across the high wires and peering into tigers’ mouths. In this circus’ House of Mirrors we also see unexpectedly twisted reflections of fictional characters like Alice in Wonderland (who makes an appearance here in two very different Yolen tales), Merlin, and Read More

Provenance: A coming-of-age tale blended with a murder semi-mystery

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Provenance by Ann Leckie

Whether you’ve read Ann Leckie’s IMPERIAL RADCH trilogy or not (though I highly recommend you do, as it’s excellent), there’s plenty to enjoy about Provenance (2017), a new and stand-alone novel set within the reaches of Radchaai space. The Empire-shifting events of Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, and Ancillary Mercy have an effect on the political schemes in progress within Read More

Night Has a Thousand Eyes: Pretty horrifying, after all

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Night Has a Thousand Eyes by Cornell Woolrich

On the cover of my Dell paperback edition of Night Has a Thousand Eyes (with a cover price of 25 cents), the author is listed as William Irish, with an asterisk next to the name. At the bottom of the cover, next to the footnote asterisk, is another name: George Hopley. This should not fool any prospective readers, though. Both names were pseudonyms of Cornell Woolrich, the author whom Isaac Asimov called "THE Master of Suspense"; whom his biographer, Francis Nevins, Jr., called "the Edgar Allan Poe of the 20th century" (hey, wait a minute ... I thought that H.P. Lovecraft was considered the Edgar... Read More

Stranger Things 2: The world is turning upside down

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Stranger Things 2 created by the Duffer Brothers

After its unexpected success last year, Stranger Things became an instant classic and fans have been clamouring for the release of the second series ever since. With its perfect combination of nostalgia, comedy and suspense, the show's creators, the Duffer Brothers, gave themselves a hell of a first series to follow up. So, did they manage to live up to the hype?

Sequels always present a conundrum: you want to give the fans more of what they want (and know), whilst simultaneously trying to create something new. Stranger Things 2 boldly begins with the unknown: our opening scenes start with a group of grungy misfits (eyeliner and mohawks galore) mid-robbery, that winds up in a police chase. It seems a far cry from the unnatural goings on at Hawkins, until one of the gro... Read More

The Devil in a Forest: “Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?”

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The Devil in a Forest by Gene Wolfe

Gene Wolfe is different from most of us — at least, he’s certainly not like me. When I hear the song “Good King Wenceslas” I may wonder idly when the Feast of Stephen is (it’s December 26th, as I finally learned two years ago), if he was a real person (he was, although he was actually a duke) and, perhaps, if he was as good as all that (I have no idea). Gene Wolfe heard “Good King Wenceslas” and decided to write this book.

The Devil in a Forest is not a Christmas story, though it is a Christian story; the action takes place near and on the Mountain, within the “forest fence” and near a shrine to Saint Agnes, and that is, as far as I can tell, the end of the direct influence of the song on the story. As the story opens, a... Read More

The Cuckoo’s Calling: Rowling makes a break without forgetting her roots

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Reposting to include Ryan's new review.

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)

Early in 2013, a new murder mystery came out. Written by an author named Robert Galbraith, The Cuckoo’s Calling was set in England and featured an army veteran detective with a prosthetic leg (he was injured saving other soldiers in Afghanistan), a strange family and an unusual name; Cormoran Strike. A few months later, through a series of different sources, it was revealed that “Robert Galbraith” was a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling, who wanted to publish her first murder mystery without having it connected in any way to her globally-famous, history-making, best-selling series of YA fantasy best-sellers.

Sorry that whole anonymous thing didn’t work out for you, Ms. Rowling. Read More

Scarlet in the Snow: A unique and interesting take on Beauty and the Beast

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Scarlet in the Snow by Sophie Masson

Sophie Masson's unofficial fairy tale trilogy is linked only by the presence of feya (powerful fairies) and certain geographical locations, which hint that Scarlet in the Snow, Moonlight & Ashes, and The Crystal Heart all exist in the same world, though none of the stories or characters ever interact.

Each one is based on a traditional fairy tale, with Scarlet in the Snow providing some interesting twists on the story of Beauty and the Beast. What if Beauty's father was dead and it was instead her mother who was struggling to make ends meet? What if Beauty actually investigated the Beast's identity, in an attempt to find out who he was before the spell wa... Read More

The Faerie Handbook: Lots of information and art, and a few crafts

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The Faerie Handbook by Carolyn Turgeon & the editors of Faerie Magazine

The editors of Faerie Magazine have compiled The Faerie Handbook: An Enchanting Compendium of Literature, Lore, Art, Recipes, and Projects (2017), and its eye-catching lavender-and-silver binding and satin ribbon bookmark certainly seem appealing, but do the contents match the cover?

Faerie appreciation is nothing new — there was a big craze in the middle of England’s Victorian era, justified thusly:
Real life was stark and challenging for most Victorians, who faced a rapidly changing and increasingly less romantic world due to urbanization and industrialization, and many felt like the world of old — and all the magic that went with it — was gone for good.
With that frame of reference in mind, it’s easy to see why certain periods and social groups... Read More

The Nine: Original premise, cool gadgets and a great heist story

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The Nine by Tracy Townsend

The Nine (2017), by Tracy Townsend, is the first book in a fantasy series titled THE THIEVES OF FATE. This second-world fantasy, with its fascinating premise, imaginative settings, cool gadgets, and rich visuals, gives the reader an exciting heist story, beautifully rendered non-human people and an intellectually challenging, thought-provoking look at science, faith, and perception of God.

The Nine follows Rowena, a young woman who serves as a courier for a shady character; Anselm Meteron, a semi-retired crime lord; the Alchemist, (who’s an alchemist); and the Reverend Doctor Phillip Chalmers, who is a scientist and part of the Ecclesiastical Commission. Chalmers and his partner have made a discovery that will change decades of belief and work, and change the understanding of... Read More

Ironclads: Searching for the missing Iron Man

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Ironclads by Adrian Tchaikovsky

In Ironclads (2017), the gap between the haves and have-nots has become drastically wider in this near-future novella, especially in the military, where it’s become popular for rich young men, called Scions, to engage in war, battling foes in high-tech, weaponized and near-impenetrable suits of armor paid for by their wealthy family corporations. It’s a little like having Iron Man, Iron Patriot, and several of their friends in your military, though without, apparently, the flying ability. In contrast, the regular army “grunts” are underpaid and denied most of the high-tech protections available to the Scions, who always outrank everyone else.

Sergeant Ted Regan of the U.S. 203rd Infantry Division and two of his men, Sturgeon and Franken, are on two weeks leave in England (now a territory of the U.S.), preparing for battle a... Read More

The Manhattan Projects by Jonathan Hickman

 The Manhattan Projects (Vol. 1) by Jonathan Hickman (An Oxford College Student Review!)

In this column, I feature 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 post the best of my students’ reviews in this column. Today, I am proud to present a review by Josh Mikos:

Josh Mikos, 18, is a native of Georgia. Currently he is a freshman attending Oxford College of Emory University. Josh plans to attend Goizueta Business School, then attend law school. Josh likes riding his motorcycle, working out,... Read More

Black Goat Blues: All the pieces are in place for a killer third installment

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Black Goat Blues by Levi Black

Levi Black’s Black Goat Blues (2017) is the follow-up to his fantastically twisted horror novel Red Right Hand, and while it wasn’t everything I hoped it would be, Black Goat Blues is still a compulsive page-turner that I couldn’t put down until I’d reached the end. Warning: it is essential that you read these books in order. Seriously.

Charlie Tristan Moore is now in possession of a sentient angel-skin coat and eldritch magicks of her own, thanks to the “generosity” of some elder gods in Red Right Hand. Her best friend, Daniel, is deep in a coma after the horrors he experience... Read More

Abounding Might: Jaunting around colonial India

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Abounding Might by Melissa McShane

In Abounding Might (2017), the third book in Melissa McShane’s EXTRAORDINARIES fantasy series about Regency-era women with diverse magical skills, the setting shifts to British-controlled India in 1813, and to a new main character, Lady Daphne St. Clair. Daphne, who was a minor character in the previous book, Wondering Sight, is gifted with the magical power of Bounding, teleporting instantly from place to place. It's a highly useful skill to the British army, especially since she can Bound with anyone or anything that she is able to pick up off the ground (even momentarily), and Daphne is wildly excited to serve her country and have adventures.
... Read More

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places: Why we need haunted places

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Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey

If ghosts exist, we don’t know why, but ghost stories exist because the living make them up; and the living make them up because we need them. Colin Dickey’s book Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places (2016) explores the US’s social conflicts and hidden histories as they play out in places that are publicly advertised as “haunted.” In the first chapter, Dickey says, “If you want to understand a place, ignore the boastful monuments and landmarks, and go straight to the haunted houses. Look for the darkened graveyards, the derelict hotels, the empty and decaying old hospitals.”

That passage is also something of a roadmap to the book, which comprises a collection of Dickey’s essays. The chapters are divided by category: haunted houses; haunted offices; haunte... Read More

Snow & Rose: Into the woods… Who knows what may be lurking?

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Snow & Rose by Emily Winfield Martin

Snow & Rose (2017) is a charming middle grade level retelling of the Snow-White and Rose-Red fairy tale with illustrations by the author, Emily Winfield Martin. Rose and Snow are the beloved eleven and nine year old daughters of a nobleman and his commoner wife, a sculptor. Rose has black hair and rosy cheeks, and is patient and gentle; Snow has white-blonde hair and icy blue eyes, and has a wilder and more adventurous personality. They have a fat grey tabby cat called Earl Grey (I adore that name! I want to adopt a grey cat now and name him Earl Grey) and had a large house with servants, a library with shelves that reached the ceiling, and a spectacular garden, half white flowers and half red, in honor of the ... Read More

The Core: A satisfying wrap to a consistently strong series

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The Core by Peter V. Brett

With The Core (2017), Peter V. Brett brings his well-received DEMON CYCLE series to a climactic close, rounding up the slew of characters he’s introduced along the way and given most of them (at least of those who have survived to this point) at least some moments of stage time for a fond farewell. I’ve enjoyed the series ever since its opening with The Warded Man, and while I had some issues with this final book, overall The Core makes for a satisfying conclusion and makes it easy to recommend the series in its entirety. I’m going to assume you’ve read the prior books, so I won’t bother recapping them, and as usu... Read More

The Small Hand: I’m giving it a big hand

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The Small Hand by Susan Hill

Susan Hill’s first ghost novel, 1983’s The Woman in Black, had recently surprised this reader by being one of the scariest modern-day horror outings that I’ve run across in years. Thus, I decided to see if lightning could possibly strike twice, and picked up her more-recent The Small Hand (2010). This latter title is the fourth of Ms. Hill’s five ghost novels to date, following The Mist in the Mirror (1992) and The Man in the Picture (2007), and preceding her recent Read More

Boneyard: Fantastical creatures and a few chills

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Boneyard by Seanan McGuire

Fans of the Deadlands tabletop RPG series will be happy to know that Boneyard (2017),  Seanan McGuire’s addition to the two previously published tie-in novels Ghostwalkers (2015) and Thunder Moon Rising (2016), is chock-full of Weird West goodness, steampunk-style mechanical creations, and mighty strange bumps in the night. Fans of McGuire’s fiction will be happy to know that Boneyard’s weirdness is matched by a strong and complicated main character, more fantastical creatures than you can shake a stick at, and... Read More

White Cat: A YA series with an interesting magic system

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

White Cat by Holly Black

White Cat (2010), the first book in Holly Black's The Curse Workers series, focuses on Cassel, a teenage boy born into a family of workers. Working magic is illegal, which means anyone born with the gift — his entire family — either works for the mob or as a con artist. Except Cassel, that is, because Cassel doesn’t have a gift. What he does have is strange dreams that make him sleepwalk, and end up in the strangest places, like on top of the dorms at his boarding school. If only he could figure out what was causing these dreams, he knows he would be okay. But what’s causing the dreams is even scarier than what is in them.

Read More

The New Voices of Fantasy: A diverse and worthy collection

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Reposting to include Jana's new review.

The New Voices of Fantasy edited by Peter Beagle

This collection of nineteen fantasy short works, edited by Peter Beagle, is definitely worthwhile if you like speculative short fiction. Many of them left an impact on me, and a few are true standouts. These stories are by relatively new authors in the speculative fiction genre and are all fantasy; otherwise there's no discernable overarching theme.

These stories have almost all been published previously over the last seven years, and several of them are Hugo or Nebula winners or nominees. While a dedicated reader of online short fiction can find many of these short works in free online magazines, it’s convenient to have them gathered together in one volume with other stories that... Read More

Blackwing: Dark, gritty, and well-plotted

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Blackwing by Ed McDonald

Blackwing (2017) begins in Misery, but things will get far worse before they get better. This gritty fantasy is set on a world where there are three moons ― red, blue and gold ― whose light can be woven into magical power and stored in canisters for use by sorcerers. Two unimaginably powerful magical forces face off against each other across the terrible void called the Misery ― a magic-blasted wasteland. On the side of mankind are the Nameless: ancient, unseen wizards who are nearly godlike in their powers, but who have mostly disappeared from the lives of men. On the other side are the Deep Kings, dark and malevolent powers that corrupt men into enthralled warriors, called the drudge, and other slaves.

Ryhalt Galharrow, our narrator, is a captain of a ragtag group of mercenaries, far fallen from his once-noble life, a jaded fighte... Read More

The Genius Plague: The mycelium strikes back

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The Genius Plague by David Walton

Fungi are fascinating, successful, scary organisms, and in the past several years speculative fiction writers have been making the most of them. David Walton steers away from the brooding, surreal and creepy approach to fungi others have chosen in favor of straight-up science fiction adventure in his 2017 novel The Genius Plague. An outbreak of a fungal infection leaves the survivors smarter, more visionary… and fully loyal to mycelia. Soon a greenhorn NSA codebreaker is fighting to save humanity and his own family.

The Genius Plague wastes no time getting us into the action as Paul Johns, a young mycologist, heads home from a field trip collecting specimens in the Amazon basin. The riverboat he catches back to ... Read More

Madhouse: Mary, Mary, quite contrary

It's Shocktober! Sandy will post a horror movie review every day this month!

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Madhouse directed by Ovidio G. Assonitis

Not to be confused with the 1974 Vincent Price/Peter Cushing movie entitled Madhouse (a fun, underrated film, by the way) and certainly not with the 1990 John Larroquette/Kirstie Alley comedy sporting that same name, the 1981 Italian horror outing called Madhouse is another story entirely. I say that the film IS Italian, although the average viewer might never realize it. Despite being an Italian production, with an Italian crew and composer, the picture was shot in English, features an American cast, and was filmed in Savannah, Georgia, although the filmmakers could certainly have included more of that city's picturesque charm, had they chosen to do so.

In this film (perhaps inspired by Brian De Palma's 1973 classic Sisters Read More

A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: An excellent exploration of the human genome

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A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived by Adam Rutherford

A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived (UK 2016, US 2017), by Adam Rutherford, is a nicely measured work of popular science that, unlike far too many popular science books/articles, doesn’t overhype its subject matter — advances in deciphering the human genome and how such advances can be applied. Always seeking to inform rather than sell, Rutherford makes for a trustworthy guide whose down-to-earth, realistic perspective doesn’t at all detract from the inherent wonder of science.

He divides the work into two large segments: “the rewriting of the past using genetics, from a time when there were at least four human species on Earth right up to the kings of Europe in the eighteenth century” and an exploration of “who we are today, and what the study of DNA in the 21st century says about families, ... Read More

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld: A supremely entertaining book

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Reposting to include Jana's new review.

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillip

As one of Patricia McKillip's earlier works, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld provides an interesting comparison to her first publication Riddle-Master, a dense trilogy that made the most of her trademark poetic-prose. On the other hand, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is a relatively slim volume with a clear concise style and a straightforward story. Since then, McKillip has managed to successfully merge the aspects of both works in her later works, but The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is by no means an example of a new writer still trying to find her voice. Far from it: The Forgotten Beasts of Eld has a fascinating premise, intriguing character interactions and a rewarding con... Read More