4

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

Summer Frost: An intelligent exploration of concerns about AI

Summer Frost by Blake Crouch

A woman steals a Maserati and takes off for a mansion north of San Francisco, on a remote stretch of Highway 1 on the coast of California. Another person, Riley, follows her into the home and up to a bathroom, where a man in the tub is dying of knife wounds. As Riley pursues the woman, the tension is offset somewhat by feeling that something about the scene is off. A smell is described as “almost right.” The woman that Riley is chasing, Maxine or “Max,” speaks in toddler-like language.

Riley, the VP of Non-Player Character (NPC) Development for a video game developer, realizes that Max, a minor video character in a virtual reality game, isn’t accepting the role of murder victim to her occult-obsessed husband within the game. Instead, after being murdered 2,039 times by her husband during the development of the Lost Coast game, Max has decided to resist her fate and is trying... Read More

Small Spaces: A delicious autumn read

Reposting to include Tadiana's new review:

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

I fell in love with Small Spaces (2018) from the first paragraph. Before I even realized this was the same Katherine Arden whose adult fiction I’ve been meaning to read for years, and before I got caught up in the richly drawn characters and the spooky plot, I was smitten by this:
October in East Evansburg, and the last warm sun of the year slanted red through the sugar maples. Olivia Adler sat nearest the big window in Mr. Easton’s math class, trying, catlike, to fit her entire body into a patch of light. She wished she were on the other side of the glass. You don’t waste October sunshine. Soon the old autumn sun would bed down in cloud blankets, and there would be weeks of gray rain before it finally decided to sno... Read More

Hellboy (vol. 7): The Troll-Witch and Others: A solid story collection

Hellboy (vol. 7): The Troll-Witch and Others by Mike Mignola (writer and artist), Richard Corben (artist), P. Craig Russell (artist)

A collection of seven stories, The Troll-Witch and Others stands out for featuring the artwork of P. Craig Russell and Richard Corben on one story each; however, the overall quality of this trade collection is a little uneven.

“The Penanggalan” has Malaysian folklore as its source material. It has a line in it that I love: “I did not say it was true, only that I believe in it,” which is spoken to Hellboy when he expresses skepticism regarding a folk tale. The Penanggalan is a creature whose head comes out of its body with its intestines dangling down from the neck. Hellboy goes in search of it with a young girl as his guide.

“The Hydra and the Lion” takes place in Alaska where Hellboy hunts down the hydra and runs into a girl who claims to be half ... Read More

Lioness Rampant: A conclusion fit for a King’s Champion

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Lioness Rampant by Tamora Pierce

Tamora Pierce takes the best elements of the three preceding SONG OF THE LIONESS books and polishes them to a fine sheen in Lioness Rampant, the final book of the quartet. She manages to pack swords-and-sorcery, a quest narrative, kind-hearted nobles and charming scoundrels, dastardly villains, truly affecting emotional arcs, and Alanna’s never-ending journey of self-discovery into a single volume without it feeling over-stuffed or slowing the narrative. Pierce’s skills as a writer were visibly improving as she worked on this series, and in Lioness Rampant, the reasons for her lasting and continued influence on the YA fantasy genre are obvious even when one considers how early in her ... Read More

Steel Crow Saga: A big old basket of wild, zany fun

Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger

Paul Krueger’s first book, Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge, was a quirky, fun urban fantasy in which magical bartenders saved Chicago from primordial evil. Based on that, I was eager to read his 2019 novel Steel Crow Saga. After I pre-ordered it, I began to read, on Twitter and other places (I follow Krueger on Twitter) that it drew heavily from the tradition of Japanese animation and the series/game Pokémon. Since I’m one of the six people in the continental USA who knows nearly nothing about either of those topics, I began to wonder if I would be the right reviewer for this book. I didn’t need to worry. This 512-page book does draw from Pokémon, gloriously celebrates ani... Read More

Maresi: A beautifully written coming-of-age tale

Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff

THE RED ABBEY CHRONICLES by Maria Turtschaninoff is a young adult trilogy originally published in Finland. This first installment, Maresi (2014), won the Finlandia Junior Prize for children’s and young adult literature. It was translated into English by A.A. Prime.

The Red Abbey is an isolated island convent where a Mother Goddess is worshipped and a trove of secret knowledge maintained. No man is allowed to set foot on its shores. Some of its sisters were sent there because they were surplus mouths to feed, some were sent to learn skills that will make them more marriageable, and some were fleeing from abuse.

Maresi is a young novice, and while she has not yet found her calling within the Abbey, she loves it there. She feels at home among the natural beauties of the island. There’s the impressive library, too — and perh... Read More

The Radio Beasts: A perfect sequel

The Radio Beasts by Ralph Milne Farley

At the tail end of my recent review of Ralph Milne Farley’s first novel, The Radio Man (later retitled An Earthman on Venus), I mentioned that I had so enjoyed this opening salvo in what soon turned out to be a series that I certainly wouldn’t have minded reading the next entries … if I could only lay my hands on some copies of these currently out-of-print books. Coming to my rescue was a reader and friend of this FanLit website, one Chuck Litka, who made me an uncommonly generous offer. He’d just moved to a new home and had discovered an old edition of The Radio Beasts, Book 2 in the series, in some packed boxes. Would I like him to send me this copy, ... Read More

Pines: You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave

Pines by Blake Crouch

Apparently I’ve been living under a rock or, perhaps, in an isolated cottage in a pine forest, since I had never heard of Wayward Pines — the town, the trilogy of novels by Blake Crouch, or the Fox TV series based on these novels — before I picked up Pines (2012). In this case, being oblivious was a great thing, since the mystery wasn’t spoiled. I think it would be possible to enjoy reading Pines already knowing what the big secret is, but certainly not knowing was a major reason I found it so compelling.

A man regains consciousness by the side of a road in a small town, bruised and battered after an apparent car crash, and with temporary amnesia about most of the details of his life, and no ID on his person. He meets a few of the residents in town, who seem o... Read More

All the Bad Apples: The power of storytelling

All the Bad Apples by Moïra Fowley-Doyle

On her seventeenth birthday, Dublin teenager Deena Rys accidentally comes out as gay to her father; he doesn’t react well. Later that day, she confides in her older sister, Mandy, who is also appalled — not because she’s gay, per se, but because she’s been researching the family history and has come to a frightening conclusion. Mandy believes there’s a curse on all the Rys women who don’t fit in, and that something terrible happens to all of these “bad apples” at the age of seventeen.

The next morning Mandy is seen jumping from a cliff on the far side of the country.

No body is found, but the note Mandy left for Deena sure looks like a suicide note, and the family presumes her dead. Everyone except Deena, that is, who steadfastly believes her sister is still alive, a belief that is bolstered when she finds another note from Mandy. In the envelope wit... Read More

The Wicked King: An exciting middle book!

The Wicked King by Holly Black

The Wicked King (2019) is the second book in Holly Black’s THE FOLK OF THE AIR series. The first book, The Cruel Prince, and a supplementary novella, The Lost Sisters, introduced us to Jude and Taryn, mortal twin sisters who were brought to faerie after their parents were murdered by Madoc, a former general in the Court of Elfhame who is now raising the twins as his own daughters. You need to read The Cruel Prince and, if you’d like some additional background, The Lost Sisters, before reading The Wicked King. This review will have some spoilers for the story up to this point. Read More

Enchantée: An addictive tale of addiction

Enchantée by Gita Trelease

Enchantée (2019) is a young adult historical fantasy set in Paris, just before the French Revolution. Camille is a teenage girl whose family was ravaged by smallpox a few months past. Both of Camille’s parents died, her younger sister Sophie is still frail, and their brother Alain has descended into drink and gambling. Camille has one trick up her sleeve — her late mother taught her the art of turning scrap metal into coins by magic — but lately the magic hasn’t been working properly. The coins are changing back into scrap metal too quickly, so that no one trusts Camille anymore, and Alain steals all the real money to pay his debts.

Desperate to keep herself and Sophie from becoming beggars or worse, Camille opens her mother’s forbidden trunk and finds the tools that will allow her to pass as a noblewoman using glamoire, the magic of changing oneself. This, ... Read More

Blood of an Exile: A well-executed quest with a welcome ecological touch

Blood of an Exile by Brian Naslund

I confess that I picked up Blood of an Exile (2019) by Brian Naslund with the expectation that I’d be reading another fantasy about a roguish-yet-likable gritty swordsman and his band of gritty companions battling the odds to save their gritty world. And sure, the world is gritty. But as I often say, it’s not the familiarity of the tropes, but what one does with them. And Naslund executes them quite well even while subverting a few. Even better, he casts the entire story within a more original context that freshens everything, even the grit, nicely.

The country of Almira has a relatively unique way of punishing particular criminals. They tattoo a set of blue bars on their face, give them a low-born assistant known as their “forsaken shield,” and send them out to slay dragons, which are nu... Read More

Jigs & Reels: Like a box of chocolates, a fun collection of treats

Jigs & Reels by Joanne Harris

It's always fascinating to read short stories written by your favourite author. Without the luxury of a longer page-count, they're forced to hone their craft and get out of their comfort zone, and often some of their best work can be found in the short story format. Besides which, a lot can be said with just a few words. As Joanne Harris herself points out in her foreword, short stories: "provoke questions, whereas most novels tend to try and answer them."

Harris is perhaps best known for Chocolat, and most of her novels are so full of sensory description that you can almost see, smell, taste and feel what she's describing. However, the twenty-two short stories in Jigs & Reels (2004) are... Read More

Mapping Winter: A character and a world that will stick with me

Mapping Winter by Marta Randall

Mapping Winter (2019) is Marta Randall’s reworking of her 1983 novel, The Sword of Winter. (Randall talks more about the story behind the book here.) Its release as Mapping Winter was followed shortly by the all-new sequel The River South, with the two novels making up the RIDERS GUILD series. It’s a secondary-world fantasy, but without magic; I was about two-thirds of the way through the book when I realized, “Huh, I don’t think there’s been any magic!” What it does have is a nation poised between feudalism and industrialization.

The Riders are a venerable organization of messengers who travel around the country of Cherek. They bring the news, spread proclamations, and are responsible for... Read More

The Confession: As magical as The Miniaturist

The Confession by Jessie Burton

After the phenomenal success of The Miniaturist (and The Muse after it), the buzz surrounding Jessie Burton's latest release should come as no surprise. Whilst The Confession (2019) might seem like a very different kind of book (gone are the elements of the fantastical and the uncanny), Burton's signature tension, suspense and an intricately characterised female cast remain.

In the winter of 1980, Elise Morceau meets Constance Holden on Hampstead Heath by chance. Connie is a successful writer. Older than Elise, she is alluring in a way that Elise has never known. The women's lives quickly become e... Read More

Starfish: A scary deep-sea biological horror story

Starfish by Peter Watts

In a future overpopulated and under-resourced Earth, a geothermal energy plant has been constructed in a trench thousands of miles under the Pacific Ocean’s surface. The humans of the maintenance crew who live and work in and around the power station have been genetically engineered to withstand the harsh deep-sea environment. But the only people who are willing to undergo this biological manipulation and unpleasant living situation are outcasts, misfits, the psychologically damaged, and criminals.

We meet them aboard the Beebe station where they live together in a cramped environment that can be tense, not only because of the difficulty of their job, but also because of the personalities involved. Ratcheting up the tension is the presence of the unearthly creatures that inhabit the deep trench and the crew’s realization that, in some ways, they are more akin to those monsters than they are to the human... Read More

Sapphire Flames: The siren takes the lead

Sapphire Flames by Ilona Andrews

Sapphire Flames (2019) is the fourth novel in Ilona Andrews' HIDDEN LEGACY urban fantasy/romance series, in which powerful magical families control most of society. (Note: You really do have to start at the beginning of this series, with Burn for Me; each book builds on what came before.) Having wrapped up the romance of Nevada Baylor and Connor Rogan in the first three books in this series, Sapphire Flames and the interim novella that precedes it, Diamond Fire, shift the focus of the series to a new main character, Nevada's younger sister Catalina Baylor, a so-called ... Read More

The Woman Who Rides Like a Man: Jennifer Lawrence of Arabia

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

The Woman Who Rides Like a Man by Tamora Pierce

The Woman Who Rides Like a Man is the third volume of the SONG OF THE LIONESS quartet and the weakest volume of the series. Tamora Pierce makes a good effort of exposing Alanna (and thus, the reader) to some of the varying peoples and customs within the Tortallan kingdom and its neighboring countries, but relies too much on the White Savior trope, and the entire book suffers as a result. As I’ve said before, readers should start with the first book, Alanna: The First Adventure and work forward, though Pierce does a great job of summarizing key events from previous books.

The entire SONG ... Read More

Hellboy (vol. 6): Strange Places: Two More Mythos-Building Hellboy Tales

Hellboy (vol. 6): Strange Places by Mike Mignola (writer and artist) & Dave Stewart (colorist)


Strange Places is a collection of two top-notch Hellboy stories. “The Third Wish,” the first story, takes Hellboy to Africa. Mignola expertly weaves together several African tales of folklore before taking Hellboy beneath the sea. There he is captured by three mermaids who turn him over to their grandmother, the Bog Roosh, a large fish-like creature. The Bog Roosh traps him in bones made from a man who blames Hellboy for his murder. Each of the mermaids makes a wish but gets more than she bargained for, until the third, only somewhat smarter than her two sisters, makes a wish that will have an impact on Hellboy. And as always, in the end, Hellboy makes his own destiny. It is a story with a beautiful, haunting ending.

“The Island” is the second, and final, story in this coll... Read More

Astounding: Four men who, despite their flaws, helped form science fiction

Reposting to include Jana's new review.

Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction by Alec Nevala-Lee

The Golden Age of Science Fiction is generally pinned to the decade from 1939 to 1950, and while a host of people contributed in various ways, pretty much everyone agrees that if one could point to a single dominating figure it would John W. Campbell, editor of Astounding Science Fiction, the pre-eminent magazine for science fiction at the time. In Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction (2018), Alec Nevala-Lee explains how Campbell, and the trio of quite different authors who made up his highly influential stable of writers, came to have such outsized influence and then, for ... Read More

Dead Voices: I’m hooked on this series

Dead Voices by Katherine Arden

I loved Small Spaces, Katherine Arden’s first foray into children’s horror, and so I jumped right into its sequel, Dead Voices (2019). A few months have passed since Ollie, Coco, and Brian outsmarted the Smiling Man who wanted to turn them, and all their classmates, into scarecrows. The ordeal left them with recurring nightmares, but also made them best friends. It’s December now, and Ollie’s dad has won a stay at Mount Hemlock, the new ski lodge a few hours outside of town. He’s taking all three kids, along with Coco’s mom.

I didn’t fall in love as immediately this time, and I think I’ve distilled that down to two reasons. One is that, from an adult perspective, it seemed... Read More

In the Hand of the Goddess: Squire Alan(na) delivers some hard knocks

Reposting to include Rebecca’s new review.

In the Hand of the Goddess by Tamora Pierce

In the Hand of the Goddess is the second installment of Tamora Pierce’s SONG OF THE LIONESS quartet, and while Pierce does provide a fair amount of backstory and repetition of key details from the previous book, Alanna, I recommend reading the books in sequence. By starting at the beginning, readers will have a better appreciation for the trials and challenges Alanna experiences in her quest to become a knight, as well as her struggle to maintain her false identity as “Alan,” since only boys are allowed to train in the king’s service. This review may contain a few spoilers for key events in Ala... Read More

The Bastard Brigade: Sabotaging Hitler’s atomic bomb program

The Bastard Brigade: The True Story of the Renegade Scientists and Spies Who Sabotaged the Nazi Atomic Bomb by Sam Kean

Sam Kean, who wrote the delightfully informative Caesar’s Last Breath in 2017 about the topic of gases, including a section on nuclear bombs, delves more deeply into the history of the atomic bomb in The Bastard Brigade (2019). Though the subtitle might lead one to presume that it focuses solely on the Allies’ Alsos mission, the group charged with thwarting Nazi Germany’s development of the atomic bomb, this book is much more wide-ranging in its topics. The Bastard Brigade is a sweeping account of the development of nuclear physics prior to and during WWII, the race to develop a working atomic bomb, and finally the Alsos mission itself.

Part I, set during ... Read More

Alanna: The First Adventure: Swords, sorcery, and fun

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce

Alanna: The First Adventure is, indeed, the first volume of well-known fantasy author Tamora Pierce’s four-book series THE SONG OF THE LIONESS. First published back in the 1980s, the quartet was remarkable in many ways, tackling issues like gender roles, cultural tensions, self-determination, and inherited versus achieved power. Written at a time when “young adult” didn’t exist as a genre and feisty teenage girls couldn’t find much positive representation in mainstream fantasy, the series laid out many of the familiar paths and tropes of what has become modern YA fantasy. Since I’ve read a lot of novels influenced by Pierce’s work, the series’ 2014 hardcover re-release and their attendi... Read More

The Raven Boys: A challenging urban fantasy with a dash of everything

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Blue is the only non-psychic in a large extended family of psychics in Henrietta, Virginia. Her only unusual ability is that her presence amplifies the psychic powers of others around her, but she herself cannot use these abilities. So it’s a shock when, while sitting vigil in a graveyard with her aunt Neeve, Blue sees the spirit of a boy about her age who is destined to die in the next year. She learns that there are only two possible reasons she was able to see him: either he’s her true love, or she’s going to kill him.

The Raven Boys follows two groups of characters whose stories weave together: Blue and her eccentric family, and a clique of four boys from the posh Aglionby Academy, whose students are nicknamed “raven boys” for the emblem on their uniforms. The leader of this clique is Ganse... Read More