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Gulliver of Mars: An incredible fairy tale of adventure

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Gulliver of Mars by Edwin L. Arnold

Editor's note: Because it's in the public domain, Gulliver of Mars is free in Kindle format.

On those rare occasions when it is discussed at all today, British author Edwin L. Arnold’s final book, Lt. Gullivar Jones: His Vacation, is primarily spoken of as a possible influence on Edgar Rice BurroughsJohn Carter novels. But this, it seems to me, is doing Arnold’s last writing endeavor a disservice, as the book is an exciting, highly imaginative, colorful piece of fantasy/sci-fi more than capable of standing on its own merits, discounting any possible relation to its more famous successor. Arnold’s book first saw the li... Read More

A Veil of Spears: Carries the series forward in good fashion

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A Veil of Spears
by Bradley P. Beaulieu

Bradley P. Beaulieu returns to his desert setting in A Veil of Spears (2018), the third novel of THE SONG OF THE SHATTERED LANDS series. Book one for me remains the strongest, but both the sequel and now A Veil of Spears are worthy follow ups that both deepen and broaden the story and the characters. I’m going to assume you’ve read the first two novels (you really need to have done so), so fair warning that there will be spoilers for those two books ahead.

The book picks up shortly after the last with Çeda continuing her attempt to bring down the Kings of Sharakhai, which were twelve in book one (named, um, Read More

Paper Girls (Vol. 2) by Brian K Vaughan

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Paper Girls (Vol. 2) by Brian K Vaughan (writer) and Cliff Chiang (artist)

This is the second volume of Brian K. Vaughan’s Paper Girls, and takes up the story right where it left off in volume one. The four paper girls from 1988 have found themselves in 2016, but still in the sleepy suburb of Stony Stream. And they are about encounter more weirdness and sinister characters that the first volume…

Paper Girls has been likened to a female version of Stranger Things, and while they both center on a group of suburban kids growing up in the 1980s who start to encounter strange and occult happenings in their town and have to take things into their own hands, with copious 80s pop references, ... Read More

The Will to Battle: War is still coming — oh, wait, it’s here

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The Will to Battle by Ada Palmer

Unlike winter in George R.R. Martin’s SONG OF ICE AND FIRE series, the long-dreaded war in Ada Palmer’s TERRA IGNOTA finally does show up, or appears to, at the end of Book Three, 2017’s The Will to Battle. The war starts in the final six or seven pages of the book.

This doesn’t mean nothing happens in the 344 pages leading up to the war. In The Will to Battle, the avatar of the Greek warrior Achilles appears; the role, if not the identity, of the editor designated as A9 is revealed; the various Hives grapple with their governance structures and their identities. Sniper is abducted; J.E.D.D. Martin ... Read More

The Invincible: Early classic encounter with a swarm intelligence

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The Invincible by Stanislaw Lem

Stanislaw Lem was a Polish SF author, one of the most famous and successful writers outside the English language world, selling over 45 million copies in 40+ languages over five decades from the 1950s, but mainly in Eastern European communist bloc countries such as Poland, Germany, and the Soviet Union. However, despite his success he had a rocky relationship with the United States SF community, having a fairly low opinion of American SF fiction writers other than Philip K Dick’s works, and having his honorary membership with the SFWA taken away when he became eligible to become a regular member, which may have been intended as a slight and... Read More

Burn Bright: Life on the wilding side

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Burn Bright by Patricia Briggs

Burn Bright (2018) is the fifth and latest novel in Patricia BriggsALPHA AND OMEGA urban fantasy series … actually, it's more mountainous wilderness fantasy, but it does involve werewolves and witches living amongst humans. Burn Bright, though it has different main characters, also intertwines nicely with the main MERCY THOMPSON series.

Bran, the grand-Alpha or Marrok of most of the werewolf packs in North America, is still out of town due to the events in the last MERCY THOMPSON book, Silence Fallen. He phones home and tells his wife Leah and son Charles that... Read More

Paper Girls (Vol 1) by Brian K Vaughan

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Paper Girls (Vol 1) by Brian K Vaughan (writer) and Cliff Chiang (artist)

If you are a fan of Brian K. Vaughan’s amazing Saga comic series, you are likely to want to check out some of his other series as well. In addition to writing many stories for Marvel and DC comics’s well-known franchises, he has also written a number of original series, including Y: The Last Man, Ex Machine, Runaways, and Paper Girls. For Paper Girls, I rally liked the cover artwork by Cliff Chiang, coloring by Matt Wilson, and lettering by Jared Fletcher.

Paper Girls has been likened to a female version of Stranger Things Read More

The Sky is Yours: We wrestled with this literary SF novel

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Reposting to include Bill's new review.

The Sky is Yours by Chandler Klang Smith

I wrestled with this review for Chandler Klang Smith’s 2018 novel The Sky is Yours from the first paragraph. I wanted to refer to it as a “zeitgeist novel.” After I wrote that, I glanced at Wikipedia and decided that, as Inigo Montoya says to the Sicilian in The Princess Bride, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” So, I’ve decided that The Sky is Yours is not a zeitgeist novel. It’s more self-conscious than that. It is a novel of the zeitgeist, using a future-dystopia to comment on the values, concerns and fears of modern living.

The Sky is Yours is about t... Read More

Our Senses: An Immersive Experience

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Our Senses: An Immersive Experience by Rob DeSalle

Our Senses: An Immersive Experience (2018) is, perhaps appropriately given its topic, a dense and at times perhaps overwhelming exploration of how our minds take in information and make sense of it. While I found much of it utterly fascinating, and would recommend it, I have to confess there were times I was tempted to skim and felt the book became either a bit unfocused or, on the flip side, hyperfocused.  It didn’t help — and this is clearly no fault of author Rob DeSalle — that the formatting on the Kindle got confused by insets, so that it took a moment to track just where a sentence was going. Here’s hoping that gets fixed soon.

You might have expected DeSalle to have organized the book by the six basic senses: taste, touch, smell, ... Read More

Small Gods: A nice message and some smartypants good fun

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

Small Gods by Sir Terry Pratchett

Small Gods (1992) was the first DISCWORLD book I read, and it made me love the series. I reread it recently, and, allowing for certain themes that repeat in all the DISCWORLD books, I found I still enjoyed it. Pratchett delivers a message on the nature of hypocrisy, fanaticism and faith, with lots of smartypants good fun along the way.

Brutha is a novice at the Temple of the Great God Om. While Brutha is a hard worker and a well-meaning lad, he neither reads nor writes and he’s kind of a simple soul. Only two things make Brutha different; an amazing memory, and an unalloyed, bright-burning belief in the Great God Om. These two things will make him the most important person in Discworld… at least to Om.

The Great... Read More

Seven Surrenders: Still intellectual, still philosophical, still glittery and intricate

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Seven Surrenders by Ada Palmer

War is coming.

That’s the plot premise of Seven Surrenders (2017), the second book in Ada Palmer’s TERRA IGNOTA series. War is coming, and the many characters in this intricate tapestry of a series can’t stop it. Along the ways alliances are broken, people are betrayed, and secrets revealed.

Jason reviewed the first book in this series, Too Like the Lightning.

Before I start the actual review, I have a couple of suggestions. Read Too Like the Lightning before you read Seven Surrenders. Just as Too Like the Lightning was not a st... Read More

Warrior Witch: A bittersweet conclusion to a strong YA trilogy

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Warrior Witch by Danielle L. Jensen

The third and final book in Danielle L. Jensen's THE MALEDICTION TRILOGY picks up right where its predecessor left off: with the death of the witch Anushka and her curse upon the trolls lifted. Now they're able to leave their city under the mountain, which is bad news for humanity since they're led by the deranged prince Roland and his puppet-master Duke Angouleme. Their first objective is to overthrow the country and subdue all its people, and only Tristan and Cecile, the star-crossed lovers whose marriage was meant to prevent such chaos, can stop them.

Working within the tangled web of magical rules and regulations that have been established in previous books (such as trolls being unable to lie, but also able to extract unbreakable promises... Read More

The Warrior’s Apprentice: You’ll want to read more!

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

The Warrior's Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold

Editor's note: This is Marion's review of Shards of HonorBarrayar, and The Warrior’s Apprentice. Kat's comments about The Warrior's Apprentice are at the bottom.

Do you like fancy military uniforms? Shiny spaceships that blow things up? Brooding aristocrats with hulking stone castles and dark secrets? Snappy comebacks and one-liners? Voluptuous women warriors? Swords and secret passages? Surprising twists on standard military tactics of engagement?

If you answered “Yes” to three or more, check out the VORKOSIGAN SAGA. Lois McMaster Bujold started this series in the mid-80s. The VORKOSIGAN books start out as space opera, even having map... Read More

The Book of Dragons: Wonderful dragon stories for kids

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The Book of Dragons by Edith Nesbit

Edith Nesbit writes the most clever and charming children's stories. I love them. The Book of Dragons is a collection of eight delightful tales about dragons:

“The Book of Beasts” — Lionel, a young boy, is summoned to be the king after his great-great-great-something-grandfather dies. In the library of his new castle, he discovers the Book of Beasts and opens it. Out flies a red dragon who eats a soccer team and an orphanage. King Lionel must outwit the dragon with some help from a hippogriff and a manticore. This story is pretty funny and it, as well as the narrator’s voice in the audio edition I listened to, reminded me a lot of Neil Gaiman.

... Read More

The Best of Lucius Shepard: Earlier stories are best

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The Best of Lucius Shepard by Lucius Shepard

I’ll come right out and say it. Lucius Shepard was one of the best SF short story writers of the 1980 and 1990s. His prose, imagery, themes, and style are so powerful, dynamic, and vivid that it’s a real crime that he didn’t gain a wider readership when he was alive, though he did win many SF awards.

Although he had already been publishing his stories in SF magazines like SF&F and Asimov’s for several years, he gained greater prominence with his short story collection The Jaguar Hunter in 1987, which won the 1988 World Fantasy Award and Locus Award for Best Collection. Many of the stories were nominated for the Hugo and Nebu... Read More

Revival: King channels Lovecraft

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Revival by Stephen King

Revival is a very modern Stephen King novel that channels H.P. Lovecraft at his cyclopean best. His key characters are bold, if not as colorful as some of his best work, and his themes are of familiar and well-trodden King territory. Often hammered by critics (professional and amateur alike) for his weak endings, King builds up to a conclusion that is strong and memorable. It’s monstrous, dark and creepy as hell. It’s pure Lovecraft and beautiful in its austerity.

Revival is a story about religion and anti-religion; a story about belief and the loss of belief … and an inability t... Read More

Lair of Dreams: Ghostly problems plague NYC

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Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray

"To believe in one's dreams is to spend all of one's life asleep." – Chinese proverb

"Every city is a ghost." – Opening line of Lair of Dreams

Dreams become traps and deadly nightmares in Lair of Dreams, the second installation in Libba Bray’s DIVINERS fantasy horror series. In 1927, a crew of men is opening up an old walled-off tunnel underneath the streets of New York City in order to build a new subway tunnel. The workers find a desiccated body in a walled-off area. Soon the men begin to die of a mysterious sleeping sickness, where the afflicted cannot be awakened and die after a few days. The sickness is blamed on... Read More

The Philosopher’s Flight: Quite a thrilling ride

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The Philosopher’s Flight by Tom Miller

The Philosopher’s Flight (2018) is an ambitious World-War-I alternate history fantasy with an unconventional social justice agenda, which only partially caves in on itself. On balance, the story is quite a lot of fun. I have to admit I’ll be looking for more from this talented new author.

This is essentially a coming of age story, and the smarts (and fantasy) of this novel hinge heavily on Tom Miller’s very clever world building around the “science” of empirical philosophy — “sigilry” in layman’s terms. Miller frames up what is effectively magic hokery into a technical discipline mastered only by women, whereby the gentle (ahem) sex execute extraordinary feats of strength (and technology) undreamt of in the WWI era: flight, almost instantaneous mass transit, speed messaging, smoke carving... Read More

Stolen Songbird: A mixture of the inventive and expected

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Stolen Songbird by Danielle L. Jensen

YA fantasy has experienced an influx of sparkly vampires, fallen angels and broody fey-creatures in the past ten years, but this is the first time I've seen trolls toted as desirable romantic partners. When I hear the word "troll" I think of the large and grotesque creatures from The Hobbit or The Three Billy Goats Gruff, but Danielle Jensen reimagines them as creatures that are human in shape, but deformed in features. Our first glimpse of one is described thusly: "the two sides of his face, so flawless on their own, were like halves of a fractured sculpture put back together askew."

Meanwhile, the King of the Trolls is hugely obese, and the Queen is a Siamese twin (her doll-sized sister grows out of her back)... Read More

A City Dreaming: Intriguing hero, intriguing setting

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A City Dreaming by Daniel Polansky

First things first: A City Dreaming (2016) is not really a novel (as its cover claims). It’s more like a collection of connected short stories that all feature the same protagonist (an adept named M) in the same setting (a supernatural New York City). The stories progress chronologically and have a cast of recurring characters. I liked this set-up quite well, but I suspect that some readers will want to be warned about this straight off so they can choose to approach A City Dreaming when they’re in the mood for a more episodic adventure.

M has just returned to NYC after being out of the country for years. He’s introverted and somewhat of a loner, so at first he doesn’t let anyone know he’s in town, but soon the magical community becomes aware of his presence and then his friends, acquaintances... Read More

Barrayar: Culture shock

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold

Editor's note: This is Marion's review of Shards of HonorBarrayar, and The Warrior’s Apprentice. Kat's comments about Barrayar and Stuart's review are at the bottom.

Do you like fancy military uniforms? Shiny spaceships that blow things up? Brooding aristocrats with hulking stone castles and dark secrets? Snappy comebacks and one-liners? Voluptuous women warriors? Swords and secret passages? Surprising twists on standard military tactics of engagement?

If you answered “Yes” to three or more, check out the VORKOSIGAN SAGA. Lois McMaster Bujold started this series in the mid-80s. The ... Read More

The Blood of Olympus: The final battle between Olympus and Mother Earth

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The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan

The fifth and final book in THE HEROES OF OLYMPUS pentalogy sees our seven demigods finally go up against the threat that's been brewing for the last four books: Gaia, the primordial goddess who's been deliberately pitting the Greeks and the Romans against one another. With the training camps of young half-blood youths preparing for war and many of the gods torn between their Greek and Roman personas, our young protagonists have only a prophecy to guide their quest for peace: one that suggests they're not all going to make it out alive.

After the previous book in the series, The House of Hades, Rick Riordan thankfully scales things back a bit by only prov... Read More

The Diviners: YA supernatural horror

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Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

The Diviners by Libba Bray

The Diviners is a 2012 YA fantasy in the supernatural horror genre, and the first book in THE DIVINERS series by Libba Bray.  At a birthday party in Manhattan in the 1920's, a group of partying teenagers decides to play with a Ouija board. They promptly do several things they're really not supposed to do, like failing to make the spirit controlling the board say good-bye (is this really a thing?), thereby unleashing the spirit of a dead serial killer on the world.

The second chapter of The Diviners introduces our main character, Evie O’Neill, from Ohio. She's an insolent and self-centered seventeen-year-old who likes to party hard and drink too much gin. Evie spouts 1920’s slang almost every time she opens ... Read More

Bright Thrones: Whatever happened to Bettany?

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Bright Thrones by Kate Elliott

The Bright Thrones novella (2017) ties up some loose threads left after the conclusion of Poisoned Blade, the second book in Kate Elliott’s COURT OF FIVES trilogy. In the middle of that novel, Jessamy reunites briefly with her twin sister, Bettany, who appears to be in servitude to a famous foreign doctor, Lord Agalar. Very little about their strange situation is explained at the time, and circumstances drive the sisters apart just when it seems that a reunification (though certainly not a reconciliation) might be possible.

Most of Bright Thrones takes place before Bettany and Jes meet up at the royal f... Read More

Starlings: A worthwhile journey into a writer’s mind

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Starlings by Jo Walton

I’m honestly not quite sure of how to review Jo Walton’s 2018 collection of short stories, Starlings. As a fiction read, it left me greatly wanting, with many of the stories (there are also poems and one play, but more on those later) feeling undeveloped, slight, and too one-note, so that most frequent reaction was “nice idea, but ...” with the “but” mostly signifying a response that really wasn’t a response. And so what’s the problem, you might be thinking. You didn’t respond to most of the stories; give it a bad review. Which is a nice idea, but ...

And here’s the thing. Each story is followed by a brief afterword explaining where the premise arose, or what Walton’s intentions were, or where it was published (or not) or how much ... Read More