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The Midnight Library: A literary Sliding Doors

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Who hasn't fantasised what a different version of their life might look like? What if you'd become famous? Or an Olympic athlete? What if you'd become an arctic researcher? A musician? That's exactly what Matt Haig explores in his latest offering, The Midnight Library (2020).

Nora Seed (and note the pointed symbolism of her surname) is not having a great day. Her cat just died. She's been fired. Her brother is ignoring her and her neighbour, the only person she has any social contact with, doesn't need her to bring round his meds any more. So that night, she tries to kill herself.

Instead of death, however, Nora finds herself in a library where each volume on the shelf is a different version of her life. She is met by the librarian, a certain Mrs. Elm (who, coincidental... Read More

Call of the Bone Ships: A sequel that’s better than the first book

Call of the Bone Ships by R.J. Barker

Call of the Bone Ships (2020) is the second book in R.J. Barker’s TIDE CHILD trilogy. The first book, The Bone Ships, introduced Joron Twiner, first mate to a tough and effective sea captain named Lucky Meas. Sailing and politics collide when their disreputable ship Tide Child was assigned to find and protect the last of a valuable but possibly extinct sea dragon species. The Bone Ships — dark, moody, and beautifully written — was slow-going until the final scenes, which were spectacular. By that point I was eager to read this second book, Call of the Bone Ships.

Call of the Bone Ships Read More

The Year I Flew Away: Full of heart and humor

The Year I Flew Away by Marie Arnold

The Year I Flew Away (2021), by Marie Arnold, combines the timelessness of a fairy tale with the timeliness of the immigrant experience, all while being set in the 1980s amidst Whitney Houston and Prince. It’s a charming middle-grade novel full of heart and humor.

Gabrielle is a young girl living in Haiti; though she’s poor, she’s surrounded by family and friends. One day her parents have big news: Gabrielle is going to America to live with her aunt and uncle. She has to go alone, though, because of issues with her parents’ paperwork.

Gabrielle thought America would be heaven, but instead she finds herself terribly lonely; the other kids make fun of her and leave her out. And when her uncle and aunt take her to their respective workplaces, she learns that they have to deal with bigots on a daily basis. Gabrielle feels li... Read More

The Echo Wife: Compelling, gripping, psychological

The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey

Dr. Evelyn Caldwell is a geneticist specializing in cloning, at the pinnacle of her career: The Echo Wife (2021) begins with a banquet at which she is given a prestigious award. At the same time, Evelyn is at a low point in her personal life. She’s a prickly loner and a workaholic, and her husband Nathan has recently left her for another woman. What makes matters far worse is that Nathan, a far less brilliant scientist than Evelyn, has stolen Evelyn’s research to clone Evelyn herself to grow himself a new wife, Martine, using programming methods to make Martine a softer, more submissive version of Evelyn. Nathan even finds a way around the sterility built into the foundation of the cloning process. Martine is pregnant, while Evelyn had adamantly refused to have a child in the earlier days of her marriage to Nathan.

So Evelyn lashes out at Martine, using her cruelest words... Read More

Beasts of Tabat: Vivid worldbuilding delivers a world in political upheaval

Beasts of Tabat by Cat Rambo

Because I got an ARC of Hearts of Tabat, the second book in Cat Rambo’s TABAT QUARTET, in 2018, I read it before the first book. I thought that would have a negative impact on my reaction to Book One, Beasts of Tabat, but as I was reading, my brain reset itself, and when I got to the end I was almost as shocked as if I hadn’t had some inkling what was coming. That’s some good storytelling!

In Beasts of Tabat, we meet Teo, a village boy. His family are shapeshifters, hunted down and killed by the ruling class of Tabat. When his family plans to send him to the Temples of the Moon, Teo flees from the docks of the capital city, Tabat, where politica... Read More

The Glyphs: A highly credible lost-world adventure

The Glyphs by Roy Norton

Beginning in the middle of the 19th century, explorations began in the ancient Mayan city complex known as Tikal, in a remote and inaccessible area of northern Guatemala. In the 1880s, a systematic clearing of the area commenced, as well as a recording of the manifold marvels that were being discovered in this centuries-old site. (And when I say “centuries,” that is perhaps an understatement, as it has since been established that Tikal’s heyday was from A.D. 200 – 900.) Perhaps stimulated by news reports of this Central American wonder, Kewanee, Illinois-born author Roy Norton sat down to write the lost-world novel entitled The Glyphs, which dealt with a modern-day discovery of another Mayan city, also in northern Guatemala, a fairly unusual setting for this type of tale. Norton had been born in 1869 and so was almost 50 years old when The Glyphs Read More

Cathedral of Bones: Lovecraftian YA done right

Cathedral of Bones by A.J. Steiger

Young teen Simon Frost has had a rough start to his early life. His twin sister was murdered several years ago, his mother vanished shortly thereafter leaving only a note, his father was expelled from the Foundation amid darkly ominous rumors about his research, and Simon himself has shown so little talent as a Foundation animist not a single mentor will take him on, leaving him relegated to working in the mailroom sorting requests for the Foundation’s aid from citizens and towns/cities. When the Foundation ignores a letter from a small asking for assistance against a dangerous monster, Simon takes it on himself to come to their aid, the first step on a journey that will find him an unexpected ally and change everything he knows about the Foundation, himself, his family, and his world.

In Cathedral of Bones (2020), A.J. Steiger has crafted a Lovecrafti... Read More

On Fragile Waves: Lyrical, moving, and at times heartrending

On Fragile Waves by E. Lily Yu

In the opening pages of On Fragile Waves (2021), by E. Lily Yu, young Firuzeh, her brother Naur, and their parents are on the start of a long journey from war-torn Kabul to the hope of a better life in Australia. To pass the time on that first leg, Firuzeh’s mother entertains them with a fairy tale. But the novel will be no fairy tale, as the family makes its way through Pakistan to Indonesia to an immigration detention camp on Nauru Island and finally to Australia itself, facing loss and discrimination, poverty and indignity, and a long-standing instability and uncertainty that erodes their family ties. Filled with poetry, fairy tales, and flashes of magical realism in the form of a drowned girl who remains Firuzeh’s best friend, On Fragile Waves is a lyrical, moving, and at times heartrending story.

The journey is fraught with... Read More

Crystal Keepers: An exciting installment in this fun middle grade series

Crystal Keepers by Brandon Mull

Crystal Keepers (2015) is the third of five installments in Brandon Mull’s FIVE KINGDOMS series for kids. It follows Sky Raiders and Rogue Knight, which you’ll want to read first. There are a couple of spoilers for those novels in this review.

The story is about some middle grade kids who went to a haunted house on Halloween and were kidnapped and sold into slavery in a parallel universe called the Outskirts or the Five Kingdoms. Cole Randolph, a classmate of the kidnapped kids, managed to hide from the kidnappers and follow his friends into the Outskirts. He’s been trying to find them, save ... Read More

The Golden Fetich: Batonca Toy

The Golden Fetich by Eden Phillpotts

As I believe I have mentioned elsewhere, the influence that English author H. Rider Haggard had on his fellow writers was an enormous one. During his first 20 years as a novelist, Haggard came out with no fewer than 25 pieces of fiction, starting with 1884’s Dawn and up to 1903’s Pearl-Maiden. Of those 25, a good 14 were set in the Africa that Haggard knew so well, and of that number, around half could be set into that category that the author helped to popularize to such a marked degree: the lost world/lost race novel. His imitators were indeed legion, although very few that I have so far encountered came close to matching H. Rider’s skill in this department. One writer who I had never previously experienced, another Englishman with the curious name Eden Phillpotts Read More

The Orphans of Raspay: An action-packed PENRIC story

The Orphans of Raspay by Lois McMaster Bujold

Those of us who are big fans of Lois McMaster Bujold, now age 71, are always thrilled to have a new story from her. These days she’s been writing novellas and most of them are PENRIC AND DESDEMONA stories, a spin-off from her award-winning FIVE GODS / CHALION trilogy.

The Orphans of Raspay (2019) is the seventh of these novellas, if we go by publication order, and the eighth if we go by the story’s chronology. Most (but not all) of the novellas have a self-contained story with a satisfying conclusion, but I’d still recommend that you read them in either publication or chronological order so you can experience the development of Penric’s relationships. It is not necessary to read the CHALI... Read More

Generation Loss: A seductive brew of creepiness, melancholy, and weird religion

Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand

Generation Loss (2007) is a Shirley Jackson Award winner and the first in Elizabeth Hand’s CASS NEARY thriller series. Cass is a washed-up, alcoholic photographer who was briefly famous in the 1970s for her images of the punk scene. Now middle-aged, she’s struggling, and a friend offers her a job interviewing another photographer, Aphrodite Kamestos, who had her own heyday in the 50s and 60s and now lives reclusively on a remote Maine island.

The job quickly proves to be harder than Cass expected. It’s much too cold for Cass’s New York wardrobe. The locals are aloof. People and cats have been mysteriously disappearing. And Aphrodite had no idea Cass was coming. Cass wants to leave, but circumstances keep her in Maine longer than she intended — which pos... Read More

The Women of Weird Tales: Some of the Weird Tales ladies get their due

The Women of Weird Tales by Greye La Spina, Everil Worrell, Mary Elizabeth Counselman and Eli Colter

If I were to ask you to name some of the famous writers who had work published in the pages of the legendary pulp magazine Weird Tales, odds are that you might reply with some of the following: H. P. Lovecraft, whose Cthulhu stories sprung up in Weird Tales; Robert E. Howard, who placed his Conan stories therein; Robert Bloch, Henry Kuttner, perhaps Clark Ashton Smith. Readers who are ... Read More

Blood Heir: The return of Julie, princess incognito (Blog Tour Review!)

Blood Heir by Ilona Andrews

This review is part of the Blood Heir blog tour (#BloodHeirKD).

Julie is returning home to Atlanta after a long eight-year absence. Kate Daniels’ adopted daughter is now twenty-six, and she’s been busy the past eight years: fighting with the Canaanite god Moloch, the Child Eater, stealing one of his eyes for herself after he ripped out one of hers, being remade inside and out by the magical eye, learning about ancient powers and civilizations from her adoptive relatives … and still pining for Derek, the shapeshifter wolf she’s had a crush on since she was thirteen. But now she’s moved on. For sure. Definitely.

But it’s not the hope of seeing Derek again that brings Julie (now going by Aurelia Ryder) back to Atlanta, or even of seeing Kate.... Read More

The Fires of Vengeance: Best served cold

The Fires of Vengeance by Evan Winter

The Rage of Dragons was a well-realized and propulsive debut for author Evan Winter, though the main character was such an Edgy Boi™ that he could probably have gone ice dancing without skates. Winter's gifts for pacing and his novel world-building nevertheless left me with a good impression, and when I saw that the sequel was available, I immediately purchased a copy. To be clear, there are relatively few series that I buy on release day anymore, so it says something about Winter's abilities that I felt instantly motivated to continue THE BURNING.

For the most part, The Fires of Vengeance (2020) is your typical fantasy sequel in that it's more of what worked the first time around while also clearly being a transition to the next Bi... Read More

The Rage of Dragons: A classic style in new clothes

The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter

There's a vogue lately for fantasy inspired by cultures other than medieval western Europe or modern America, and to that I give a hearty cheer. To be clear, you'll hardly find a bigger lover of medieval Europe in particular than I am — I spent the last couple of weeks before Christmas grading papers on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, for example — but even I will admit that the neverending conga line of plucky yeomen rising up to shake wartorn kingdoms can sometimes get old. It's therefore nice to see new cultural ideas coming into play. That said, I have to wonder how far some of these stories are really straying from their predecessors in the genre. The Rage of Dragons (2019) is a good example: it features African-inspired names and themes, but it's also inescapably a story about a plucky yeoman rising up to shake a wartorn kingdom.

Still, Th... Read More

Catfishing on CatNet: A clowder of catastrophes, catalysts and catharsis

Reposting to include Tadiana's new review.

Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer

In this worthy Nebula (Andre Norton Award) finalist by Naomi Kritzer we meet Steph, a girl who has spent most of her life on the run with her mother. According to her mom, Steph’s abusive father is extremely dangerous and, after spending a couple of years in jail for arson, he’s stalking them. Steph and her mom keep fleeing to small towns, trying to get lost, but eventually her mom gets nervous again and wants to move on. This means that Steph keeps starting at new schools and never has time to settle in and make friends. Her mom, anxious and paranoid, is not a good source of comfort or companionship.

Steph’s only source of stability is CatNet, a social media site where users are assigned by the site’s administrators to chat roo... Read More

A Deadly Education: Sharp character insights, fantastic originality

Reposting to include Tadiana's new review.

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

I honestly had a very hard time with the beginning of Naomi Novik’s newest novel, A Deadly Education (2020). But based on my experience with her prior work, I kept going and though I don’t think this novel nears the strength of ones like Spinning Silver or Uprooted, I was happy I did.

El (short for Galadriel) Higgins is a student at the Scholomance, a sort of sentient, no-professors-here, boarding school for sorcerers. Students have various tracks of magic, the school presents them with lessons, suppli... Read More

The Bishop of Hell and Other Stories: Historical horror done to a turn

The Bishop of Hell and Other Stories by Marjorie Bowen

At the tail end of my recent review of D. K. Broster’s Couching at the Door, I mentioned that I so enjoyed this volume of creepy stories that I was minded to immediately begin another book from British publisher Wordsworth Editions’ Tales of Mystery & the Supernatural division … and I’m so glad that I followed through on that! My latest discovery from this wide-ranging series is Marjorie Bowen’s The Bishop of Hell and Other Stories, and in retrospect the two books have happily paired quite well together. Both were released in the 1940s (1942 for the Broster book, 1949 for the Bowen) and are the products of British authoresses more well known for their historical fi... Read More

The Ministry for The Future: An optimistic but unlikely scenario

The Ministry for The Future by Kim Stanley Robinson

Kim Stanley Robinson’s new novel, The Ministry for The Future (2020), feels like a blueprint. Set in our near future, it follows a set of diverse characters living all over the world who are trying to solve the climate crisis, repair our world and, essentially, save the human race.

The novel begins in India where Frank May is working at a charity organization’s neighborhood clinic. Heatwaves have become a regular occurrence there. When the worst one yet arrives and power is shut off, Frank desperately tries to help the citizens in the neighborhood but is unsuccessful. He is the only survivor of an event that kills millions of people, results in a stubborn case of PTSD for Frank, and sets off a global effort to make sure that it never happens again. Read More

Ninth House: Black magic in Yale’s secret societies

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Galaxy “Alex” Stern (the name courtesy of her hippie mother) seems an obvious misfit at prestigious Yale University. Wealth, athletic talent and academic stardom are nowhere to be found in Alex’s life. Instead she’s a high school dropout with a history of dead-end jobs and drug use, and the survivor of a traumatic multiple homicide. But she has a rare talent that to date has brought her nothing but grief: Alex sees the ghosts of dead people.

As it turns out, that talent is highly useful to Yale’s eight elite secret societies, and they’ve had their eye on Alex for a while. Each of these houses specializes in a different type of black magic — Skull and Bones, for example, performs ritual vivisections of living people, examining their inner organs to predict stock market changes — and these dark rituals attract ghosts. A nin... Read More

Abe Sapien (Vol. 2): The Devil Does Not Jest and Other Stories: Abe flies solo

Abe Sapien (Vol. 2): The Devil Does Not Jest and Other Stories by Mike Mignola (writer), John Arcudi (writer), Patric Reynolds (artist), Peter Snejbjerg (artist), James Harren (artist), Dave Stewart (colors), and Clem Robins (letters)

Abe Sapien (Vol. 2): The Devil Does Not Jest and Other Stories is a collection of three stories:

In “The Haunted Boy,” Abe thinks he is going out on a simple mission, a regular, run-of-the-mill haunting: Two boys fell through the ice into a pond. One died and the other survived. Recently, there have been sightings of the ghost of the dead boy. The B.P.R.D. has been contacted to assess the situation. The professor sends out Abe Sapien to investigate. Not surprisingly, the case takes a strange, and much more dangerous turn. But first, we get to watch Abe do fieldwork by diving into the pond at night to reveal the secret behind the mystery. There’s a dramatic action scene... Read More

Batman: 100 Greatest Moments: Fun reference with a lot of illustrations

Batman: 100 Greatest Moments by Robert Greenberger

Batman: 100 Greatest Moments (2019), by Robert Greenberger, like his Flash: 100 Greatest Moments which I previously reviewed (and will borrow some of here due to the similarities) is a browser’s reference book that offers up a comic reader’s cornucopia of illustrations, something one always hopes for in this sort of book. As the title says, it’s a look at an (obviously subjective) list of highlights from the near-century the classic character has been around. While some fans might quibble here and there, the list as a whole is most likely going to find general consensus.

As noted, while one can read it cover to cover, it’s more a browsing kind of book. I say that because it doesn’t go in chronological order, nor does it go into a deep di... Read More

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing: It’s not about aliens, it’s about us

Reposting to include Ray's new review.

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

Disclaimer: As my students know, I’ve had a crush on Hank Green for years. I will try to not let this bias my review.

In the middle of the night when April May, a graphic designer, is on her way home from work in Manhattan, she’s the first person to notice a huge new statue on the sidewalk. It’s totally out of place, but she appreciates its artistry, so she calls her friend Andy and asks him to help her make a video about the statue (which she names Carl). When Andy uploads it to YouTube, it goes viral. When other Carls are discovered in other major world cities, April, the first person to report on the Carls, becomes famous and begins to relish her role as their spokesperson. Her fame opens many doors but also causes problems and... Read More

The Dark Chamber: Grandisonant and venust

The Dark Chamber by Leonard Cline

Just recently, I had some words to say concerning British author J. B. Priestley’s chilling second novel, Benighted, which was released in 1927. But, as it turns out, that was not the only atmospheric and genuinely unnerving horror exercise to come out that year. On the other side of the pond, Michigan-born author Leonard Cline, in his third novel, The Dark Chamber, would create a work so very macabre that it would later earn enthusiastic praise in H. P. Lovecraft’s renowned essay entitled “Supernatural Horror in Literature.” Cline, who was 34 when this novel was released, would ultimately gain some minor renown as the author o... Read More