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A Boy and His Dog at the end of the World: Took a while but won me over

A Boy and His Dog at the end of the World by C.A. Fletcher

A Boy and His Dog at the end of the World (2019), by C.A. Fletcher (aka Charlie Fletcher) bears no small resemblance to Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars, which, it turns out, is not a bad thing. Both are quiet, elegiac stories set in a post-apocalyptic world and focused on a main character who sets out with his faithful dog on a journey that becomes less about finding what is sought and more about learning about oneself. Both had me unsure at the start if I’d finish, and both won me over, though Fletcher somewhat less fully than Heller. If you’re looking for a typical post-apocalyptic story with c... Read More

Thornbound: A Regency magic school for women

Thornbound by Stephanie Burgis

"For over seventeen hundred and fifty years, ever since the great Boudicca herself had sent the Romans fleeing Angland with the help of her second husband’s magery, a clearly defined line had been drawn in the public arena, never to be broken. The hard-headed ladies of Angland saw to the practicalities of rule whilst the more mystical and emotional gentlemen dealt with magic." 

In this magical, alternative-history version of England, called Angland, traditional roles are genderbent: the women handle politics and rule the country, while men are the magicians. For many years Cassandra Harwood was the only female magician in Angland, a single exception to a fixed tradition that many in power regret having allowed. Cassandra is still kicking against the rules of society, even though she can no longer exercise her magical powers due to a deeply regretted choice in her past. But Cassan... Read More

The Face in the Frost: A short, charming, classic fantasy

The Face in the Frost by John Bellairs

Thanks to Tantor Media for giving us a wonderful audio edition of The Face in the Frost, John Bellairs’ short classic fantasy novel which was first published in 1969. It’s performed by Eric Michael Summerer and is 5 hours long.

Prospero is a small-time wizard who lives in a small kingdom. Lately he’s been noticing some odd occurrences around his house and starts to suspect that something sinister is going on.

When his studious and adventurous friend Roger Bacon (also a wizard) arrives for a visit, the two friends decide to investigate. They suspect that an evil wizard may be stalking them. To get off Prospero’s property without being seen by the evil wizard’s minions, they shrink themselves and escape down the stream on a toy boat.

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Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach: Ecological remediation + time travel

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach (2018), one of several exceptional novellas nominated for the 2018 Nebula award, combines some intelligent and subtle world-building in the aftermath of worldwide disasters, the future version of project financing and lobbying (with lamentable similarities to our current world), and time travel to ancient Mesopotamia as research for an environmental remediation project.

In the 23rd century, humanity is beginning to rebuild on the surface of the Earth after living underground for many years in “hives and hells.” Life on the surface is limited to specific habitats, and the need for expensive ecological restoration projects to make the habitats livable has led to funding consortiums with time-consuming (and headache-inducing) formal proposal requirements. In the excitement surrounding the discovery of time travel a de... Read More

Second Stage Lensman: Book 5 of one of the greatest space operas

Second Stage Lensman by E.E. “Doc” Smith

As I mentioned in my review of Gray Lensman, Book 4 of E.E. “Doc” Smith’s famed six-part LENSMAN series, that installment, although it followed its predecessor, Galactic Patrol, by mere seconds storywise, was actually released over 1½ years later; 20 months later, to be exact. Book 5 of the series, Second Stage Lensman, would follow the same scheme. Although the events therein transpire just moments after the culmination of Book 4, readers would in actuality have to wait a solid 22 months to find out where author Smith would take them next. Book 5, like its predecessors, ini... Read More

Slayer: It slays, more or less (I’m sorry)

Slayer by Kiersten White

According to whom you ask, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is either a campy, inexplicably popular teen drama from the 90s, or it's some of the best television ever made. Not to say that the show can't be both, because in fact it is. The karate kicks and monster makeup one step up from Halloween masks were corny even for the time, and I for one would never have expected a show with such a — let's face it — silly premise to acquire a fan following so strong that it has persisted for over twenty years.

But Buffy was also great television, and that made all the difference. Some of it looks dated today, certainly, when we're spoiled for well-written prestige shows, but even so there remains something unique and special in the story of a peppy girl and her friends saving the world after school hours. The writing is sharp and the schlocky horror is fun, but where Buffy really shines is in... Read More

King of Scars: Battling mortal enemies and demons in the Grisha universe

King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

King of Scars (2019), the first book in Leigh Bardugo’s NIKOLAI DUOLOGY and part of the ongoing saga in her GRISHA universe, begins not long after the events in Crooked Kingdom. Readers should ideally have read both the original SHADOW AND BONE trilogy and the SIX OF CROWS duology before picking up this book; there are a lot of references to prior events and previously introduced characters. We return to the country of Ravka, setting of Shadow and Bone, where Nikolai Lantsov is now king. His efforts to mend the major rifts and problems t... Read More

Mountain of Black Glass: The most exciting book in the quartet

Mountain of Black Glass by Tad Williams

The third book in Tad WilliamsOVERLAND quartet, Mountain of Black Glass (1999) is better than the previous novels in the series (City of Golden Shadow and River of Blue Ice). Warning: You must read those books before starting Mountain of Black Glass.

At this point in the story, our heroes are still in Otherland, hoping to find Paul Jonas, but their progress is hampered because they’ve lost the lighter that allowed them to jump between simulations. They are still split into two groups after losing each other in the previous boo... Read More

Charmcaster: Politics and family get more complicated in this one

Charmcaster by Sebastien de Castell 

"But when an Argosi encounters something new — something that should not exist and yet could alter the course of history — we are compelled to paint a new card: a discordance." 

Charmcaster (2018) is the third book in Sebastien de Castell’s SPELLSLINGER series. In it, we see another nation in Kellen’s world, a different form of magic adopts Kellen, and the political situation convolutes in even more dangerous ways. Ferius, Kellen and Reichis team up with some new allies and manage to make still more enemies. Kellen, an exiled Jan’Tep scion who has rebelled against his ruthless, manipulative and politically astute father Ke’heops, still manages to unintentionally aid his father’s interests.
... Read More

Trail of Lightning: Monsterslaying among the Diné

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

Maggie Hoskie, the prickly heroine of Rebecca Roanhorse’s Trail of Lightning (2018), and I took a couple of tries to really hit it off. I read a few chapters of this book several months ago but stalled out and put it aside. But when the announcement of its Nebula award nomination happened to coincide with a cross-country plane flight, I picked up this again and ended up loving it.

Trail of Lightning is a gritty magical fantasy set in Dinétah, the nation of the Navajo people, in a near-future, post-apocalyptic world. Much of the world is now underwater due to a sudden catastrophe (the “Big Water”) caused by a convergence of global warming and other ecological disasters, some ten or so years before this story begins. In this “Sixth World” setting, portals to other, magical planes have been reopened and both the god... Read More

Demon: Volume 4: The blood-soaked conclusion arrives…

Demon: Volume 4 by Jason Shiga

So we come to it at last: the fourth and final instalment in Jason Shiga's Demon, detailing the misadventures (and catastrophic body-count) of Jimmy Yee, a one-time accountant who discovers he possesses the body of the person standing closest to him whenever he commits suicide.

As befits a final volume, Demon: Volume 4 is absolute, wall-to-wall insanity. There's death, war, guns, massacres, catapults, baseball bats, kamakaze stunts — in fact, there's probably something intensely violent happening on practically every page.

Having possessed the body of a foetus at the end of the last book, Jimmy has finally busted out of the womb, ready to find his daughter Sweetpea and prevent his arch-nemesis Hunter from unleashing hundreds more demons on the world... Read More

Gray Lensman: Book 4 of one of the greatest space operas

Gray Lensman by E. E. “Doc” Smith

Although the events of Book 4 in E. E. “Doc” Smith’s famed LENSMAN series, Gray Lensman, pick up mere seconds after those of its predecessor, Galactic Patrol, this latest installment actually first appeared over 1 ½ years later. Whereas Galactic Patrol had initially appeared as a six-part serial in the September 1937 - February 1938 issues of Astounding magazine, Gray Lensman had its debut as a four-part serial (even though it is a longer story than that in Book 3) in Astounding’s October 1939 - January 1940 issues, the first two issues featuring beautiful cover artwork for the serial by famed illustrato... Read More

Demon: Volume 3: The hunt continues…

Demon: Volume 3 by Jason Shiga

This is the third book in Jason Shiga's Demon quartet; the story of Jimmy Yee, an otherwise ordinary accountant who realizes he's a demon. This means that whenever he takes his own life, he ends up possessing the body of the person closest to him.

It's a free pass to wealth and power, though ever since Jimmy found his daughter Sweetpea (also a demon) and evaded capture from the secret-ops agent who's determined to exploit his abilities, Jimmy has been lying low for the past hundred years.

After that long, a hedonistic lifestyle with no boundaries or limitations is beginning to wear a little thin. Surely there's got to be more to life than food, sex and drugs?



Demon: Volume 3 is a nihilistic look at the meaning of life an... Read More

Demon: Volume 2: The (extremely violent) mystery continues…

Demon: Volume 2 by Jason Shiga

In the second volume of Jason Shiga's Demon, we find Jimmy Yee pondering his options.

As he found out in the previous book, he's a demon who possesses the body of the closest physical person to him every time he takes his own life.

Across the course of that story he experimented with the limits of his power and is now close to mastering the logistics of his macabre gift.



 

 

Unfortunately (at least from his point-of-view), you can't leave behind a trail of bodies without attracting attention.

Agent Hunter leads a special military taskforce that knows what he can do and how to counteract it. His mission is to recruit Jimmy to the American government by any means necessary.

Bu... Read More

Demon: Volume 1: A dark and disturbing page-turner

Demon: Volume 1 by Jason Shiga

If you have a strong constitution and fifteen minutes to kill, you could do a lot worse than picking up Demon (2016), Jason Shiga’s graphic novel about a nihilistic suicidal actuary who finds a reason to go on living when he realizes he possesses the body of the person closest to him each time he kills himself.

His wife and daughter having died in a car accident, Jimmy Yee decides to end it all — only to find that his suicide attempts are thwarted each time by powers beyond his control.

The first half of the story involves him grappling to understand the rules of the new forces that govern his life, while the second sees him become the target of an elite military taskforce determined to contain him.

It's bloody, it's gory, it crosses the line more than a couple of times, but Jimmy's increasing lack of morality combined with ... Read More

The Haunting of Tramcar 015: The setting and humor charmed me

The Haunting of Tramcar 015 by P. Djèlí Clark

P. Djèlí Clark’s 2019 novella (140 pages in print) is a genial paranormal mystery tale set in a wonderfully evocative alternative Cairo at the beginning of the 20th century. The title pretty much sums up the plot. Tramcar 105 is indeed haunted, as is quickly established in humorous fashion by the two agents sent to investigate by the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities. Hamed Nasr is the veteran of the pairing, with a sharp investigative eye and an equally sharp lack of patience for having his time wasted. He’s experienced in the job enough to cause the occasional eye-roll or grumble about “rookies,” but not yet jaded or cynical. His partner, whom he’s been “saddled with,” is new-on-the-job Onsi Youssef, only four years younger but with a face that “looked as if it belonged on a boy,” and with a boyish enthusiasm (and love of candy) as w... Read More

Polaris Rising: A sexy, take-no-prisoners romp through space

Polaris Rising by Jessie Mihalik

Jessie Mihalik’s debut novel, Polaris Rising (2019), is a bit like if Leia Organa and Han Solo didn’t have that wet blanket Luke Skywalker moping about, bringing everyone down with his whinging about moisture farming and power converters. It’s a story about a runaway princess and an outlaw soldier causing all kind of space-shenanigans, evading capture by the princess’ intended fiancé and her overbearing father, and the best part is that the princess is the one driving all the action and risking everything to protect her life and the lives of her companions.

So who is this princess? Ada von Hasenberg, one of the lowest-ranked among her five siblings in terms of succession to their father’s power and holdings, whose usefulness lies in being married off to one of the two other High Houses controlling the known universe, either House Rockhurst or Ho... Read More

Ghosted (Vol. 1): Haunted Heist: Haunted houses, possession, and revenge

Ghosted (Vol. 1): Haunted Heist by Joshua Williamson, Miroslav Mrva, Goran Sudzuka

In Ghosted (vol. 1): Haunted Heist by Joshua Williamson, we meet Jackson T. Winters, currently in prison after an armed robbery gone wrong. It turns out that his death wish is not simply because he hates living inside a prison; rather, it’s because of a supernaturally disturbing vision he had the day of the robbery — it turns out the casino they were robbing was built on an ancient and sacred burial ground. Also, in the course of the robbery, every member of his team dies but him, and he is left alone to be caught by the police. The story takes off when he hears gunshots while sitting on his bunk in his cell. In minutes, a woman, Anderson Lake, opens his cell, kills his two cellmates, and knocks him out. When he wakes up again... Read More

The Jane Austen Project: A realistic immersion in a Regency world

The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn

I’m an enthusiastic Jane Austen fan (Pride and Prejudice is my desert island book of choice) but I had never heard of her unfinished novel The Watsons until reading The Jane Austen Project (2017), a compelling time travel novel by Jane Austen devotee Kathleen A. Flynn. In this novel, an old Austen family letter has recently surfaced, indicating that Jane Austen actually did finish The Watsons but then destroyed most of it.

The Royal Institute for Special Topics in Physics ― a fancy title for a British government research center that has mastered the practical ability to send people back in time ― has now sent Rachel Katzman (a doctor and our narrator) and Liam Finucane (a scholar with a background in acting... Read More

A People’s Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers

A People's Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers edited by Victor LaValle & John Joseph Adams

In reaction to the Donald Trump’s election as president of the United States as well as to the rhetoric spewed by his far-right supporters such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham, Victor LaValle & John Joseph Adams wrote to a diverse set of speculative fiction authors with this charge: “We are seeking stories that explore new forms of freedom, love, and justice: narratives that release us from the chokehold of the history and mythology of the past… and writing that gives us new futures to believe in.”

The “mythology” they refer to is the history we learned in school which taught us about all the great white men who accomplished all the significant events in American history. This idea ha... Read More

Skyward: Fighting for the stars

Reposting to include Nathan's new review:

Skyward by Brandon Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson’s new young adult science fiction novel, Skyward (2018), replaces his intricately detailed fantasy magical systems with equally detailed dogfights between one-person starship fighters of the humans living on the planet Detritus (it’s as bleak as it sounds) and the starships of the alien Krell. The Krell chased a fleet of human spaceships to Detritus decades ago and have pinned them down on the planet since, frequently bombarding the humans with attacks that threaten to wipe out the colony, where people primarily live underground for safety.

Spensa Nightshade’s father died years ago during a major battle against the Krell. Though other families of spaceship pilots are lauded by the colony, “C... Read More

Dragon Pearl: A young girl, chasing adventure, finds herself

Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

The Rick Riordan Presents imprint’s mission statement is, in part, “to publish great middle grade authors from underrepresented cultures and backgrounds, to let them tell their own stories inspired by the mythology and folklore of their own heritage,” leading to the publication of novels like Roshani Chokshi’s Aru Shah and the End of Time and J.C. CervantesThe Storm Runner, and most recently joined by Yoon Ha Lees Dragon Pearl Read More

Chronin Vol. 1: The Knife at Your Back

Chronin Vol. 1: The Knife at Your Back by Alison Wilgus

The time: July 1864. The place: a tea shop in Edo; what modern folks would call Tokyo, Japan. After some reluctance on his part, a tea mistress named Hatsu hires a reticent samurai, Yoshida Minoru, to act as her bodyguard while she travels outside the city on a private errand. What Hatsu quickly discovers, and what the reader already knows, is that Yoshida Minoru is no samurai at all — but is actually Mirai Yoshida, a university student from New York City in the year 2042.

Mirai was part of a special group of students, all of whom were chosen for their academic excellence and dedication, who were given access to time-travel technology in order to better study historically significant events. Their trips to the Tokugawa Shogunate period were supposed to be as unobtrusive as possible, spending just a little time interacting with locals before returning home via special beacon... Read More

Watch Hollow: A nice blend of creepiness and charm

Watch Hollow by Gregory Funaro

Gregory Funaro’s just-published Watch Hollow (2019) is a charmingly spooky (or perhaps spookily charming) contemporary fantasy featuring an 11-year-old girl, Lucy Tinker, her 13-year-old brother Oliver, and their clockmaker father … and also a fearsome giant, a boy who mysteriously appears and disappears, and a full dozen magical talking animals sure to warm the hearts of middle grade readers.

After a brief prologue with a heart-stopping chase involving the giant, a traitorous crow, and a rat named Fennish Seven, the story shifts to our main characters, Lucy and her brother Oliver. Between their mother’s death from cancer two years earlier and their father’s lack of business acumen, the Tinker family is teetering on the brink of financial disaster. So it feels like a huge windfall when a str... Read More

Companions on the Road: One is good, one is great

Companions on the Road by Tanith Lee

I'm a big fan of Tanith Lee. Like many great fantasy writers, Lee understood that to truly transport a reader, it's not enough to talk about dragons or swords or magic systems. Readers are transported just as much or more by the way these things are talked about. Lee's work has that eerie, otherworldly feel that characterizes the best works of this genre. She could make a story about a squirrel looking for nuts feel like something dredged from a forgotten and more romantic epoch. And sometimes, that's… well, more or less what she did. Lee's writing has sparked life into many prosaic ideas. But where she really showed her mettle was when she settled onto an idea worthy of her.

With that said, Companions on the Road (at least as it presently exists) is a compilation work ... Read More