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Come Tumbling Down: An entrancing world of heroes and monsters

Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children was an island of misfit toys, a place to put the unfinished stories and the broken wanderers who could butcher a deer and string a bow but no longer remembered what to do with indoor plumbing. It was also, more importantly, a holding pen for heroes. Whatever they might have become when they’d been cast out of their chosen homes, they’d been heroes once, each in their own ways. And they did not forget.

Come Tumbling Down (2020), the fifth installment in Seanan McGuire’s WAYWARD CHILDREN YA fantasy series, returns to the conflicted relationship between twins Jack (Jacqueline) and Jill Wolcott, in a some-months-later sequel to where we left them at the end of Read More

Antarctica: Familiar, but well-written and fun

Antarctica by Kim Stanley Robinson

X follows his girlfriend, Val, to Antarctica, only to learn that she is dumping him. A mountaineer, Val becomes an expedition leader while X becomes a grunt. While driving a convoy, one of his vehicles is hijacked, which is odd enough that the American Senator Phil Chase sends one of his staff, Wade, to investigate. Kim Stanley Robinson's Antarctica is an adventure, a near future climate change allegory, and an overview of Antarctica's history, geography, geology, politics, and more.

In other words, Antarctica, published in 1997, is almost exactly the mix of detail, thoughtful speculation, and fun that KSR's readers might expect. The details are laid out in a familiar way: a lot of political and philosophical theorizing is dressed up as conversatio... Read More

Close Encounters with Humankind: A clear tour of how we became human

Close Encounters with Humankind by Sang-Hee Lee

Close Encounters with Humankind
(2018) is based on a collection of a series of essays by paleoanthropologist Sang-Hee Lee on human evolution published between February 2012 and December 2013 and appearing in a popular science magazine as well as a South Korean newspaper. Lee writes in a clear, conversational style and though sometimes one wishes for a bit more detail or depth, she makes for an entertaining and informative tour guide of our species’ history.

Lee eschews the usual chronological approach, with each essay instead focusing on a particular step along our evolutionary journey, placing it in historical context (as much as possible given inherent uncertainties over ascribing anything so ancient to a particular timeframe) and explaining our best theories on the topic. Lee answers the When, Why, and How with regard to stops along the... Read More

Radicalized: A sharp-edged look at where we’re going (or where we’re at)

Radicalized by Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow’s Radicalized (2019) is a collection of four near-future novellas that cast a critical eye on current societal trends. As is nearly always the case with collections, the story quality/impact varies, but the floor here is relatively high.

In the first, “Unauthorized Bread,” Doctorow takes on digital rights/permissions, mergers and monopolies, and the growing movement away from creating tech the average person (or non-average for that matter) can easily modify/repair themselves. The protagonist is Salima, faced one day with a broken Boulangism toaster-oven which only accepts the company’s proprietary bread — “unauthorized bread had consequences ranging from kitchen fires to suboptimal toast.” Not having the money to buy a new one, Salima goes online and teache... Read More

Angel Mage: Four Musketeers vs. a power-hungry mage

Angel Mage by Garth Nix

Chaos, death by the magical Ash Blood plague and by monstrous beasts have consumed the country of Ystara, killing all who remain within its borders. The last survivors, holed up in a cathedral, speculate that this disaster must have been caused by a “ferociously single-minded” young mage, Liliath, whose unprecedented power to call on angels, particularly the archangel Palleniel, has somehow led to things going catastrophically awry.

One hundred thirty-seven years later, Liliath awakes from her magical sleep in the temple of Saint Marguerite, in the neighboring country of Sarance. The weakened angel who awakened her informs Lilith that there are now suitable candidates for her plan — though only four rather than the hundreds she envisioned. But four will do.

Liliath’s targets are four young people who have met in Lutace, the capital of Sarance:

Simeon, a very large bla... Read More

The Twisted Ones: A modern twist on an old horror classic

The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher

The Twisted Ones (2019) begins with mild consternation: Melissa, who goes by “Mouse,” has the thankless task of taking a trip to backwoods North Carolina, with her loyal redbone coonhound Bongo for company, to clean out her late grandmother’s home. “It’ll be a mess,” her father says, in a massive understatement. Consternation shifts to deep dismay: Grandma was a hoarder. It’s even worse than normal, since her grandmother was a cruel and vicious person, and something of her evil still infuses her house, like the room full of baby dolls that looks like a “monument to infanticide.” Luckily, Mouse finds one bedroom that is clear of clutter, the bedroom of her step-grandfather Cotgrave, who died many years earlier. (If you’ve read Arthur Machen’s 1904 classic horror novelette “ Read More

iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It

iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It by Steve Wozniak & Gina Smith

What I knew about Steve Wozniak prior to reading iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It (2007) could be summed up like so: he invented the Apple II, and he guest-starred on a video-game-themed cartoon called Code Monkeys, which was a program on the television channel G4 back in 2007. After reading his memoir, I can definitely say that I've learned a lot about the history and creation of computers, but I've also gained new insight into the mind of a person who literally changed the world.

iWoz is an interesting, reflective memoir which occasionally is bogged down by technical details. Luckily, the strength of the personal reminiscences and the easy familiarit... Read More

Uncanny Stories: Not withholding affection

Uncanny Stories by May Sinclair

This is not the first time that I am going to say some nice things about London-based publisher Wordsworth Editions, and, more particularly, its Tales of Mystery & the Supernatural division, which, over the years, has brought forth dozens of reasonably priced books by many well-known writers, as well as many lesser-knowns. Previously, I have written here of two Wordsworth volumes by some (to me) known authors, Ambrose Bierce (Terror By Night – Classic Ghost & Horror Stories) and Robert E. Howard ( Read More

The Secret Commonwealth: Thought-provoking and complicated

The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman (Ray  Jana)

With the release of La Belle Sauvage, readers were finally able to return to the universe of Philip Pullman's HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy after a seventeen year wait. The story was a prequel to the original trilogy (though Pullman described the new series not as a sequel, but an 'equel.') Being only a baby, it was not Lyra who took centre stage in that novel, but a young boy called Malcolm Polstead, who used his boat La Belle Sauvage to rescue Lyra from a terrible flood and an even more terrible man in pursuit.

Now in the latest addition to the series, The Secret Commonwealth (2019), Lyra returns in full force. She is a twenty-year-old e... Read More

Anyone: Whose mind is using that body?

Anyone by Charles Soule

Gabriella White, a brilliant neurologist and scientist who's searching for a cure to Alzheimer's, is at the very end of the funding for her research project. In her frustration, she recklessly pushes the power for her lab equipment, a neural stimulation system, to the maximum ... and accidentally finds herself in her husband Paul's body in their nearby house, holding their beloved 11-month-old daughter, who they call Kat or Kitten. Shocked, Gabby drops Kat back into her crib and runs back to the lab, where she finds her own body in a comatose state. She’s not at all sure whether she'll be able to switch her consciousness from Paul’s body back to hers.

In the very next chapter, it's twenty-five years later, and it's clear that Gabby's botched experiment, now called "flash" technology, has completely transformed our world, in both good ways and bad. When a flash takes place, the flasher's original body is... Read More

The Rosewater Redemption: The Weird finale of a Weird trilogy

The Rosewater Redemption by Tade Thompson

Tade Thompson’s WORMWOOD TRILOGY, which is a delightfully Weird take on the Humans vs Aliens trope, ends with The Rosewater Redemption (2019). You’ll need to read the first two novels first: Rosewater and The Rosewater Insurrection. I’ll assume that you have. (If you haven’t, I highly recommend them.)

It’s 2068 and, at this point in the story, nobody knows what to expect from the alien presence named Wormwood. It is trying to take over the earth, but in a gradual, insidious way. Most of humanity is unaware of this and many are enjoying the healing a... Read More

Moonlight and Ashes: A fresh take on the Cinderella fairy tale

Moonlight and Ashes by Sophie Masson

This is one of three fairy tale retellings by Sophie Masson that are only tangentially based on a traditional tale, the others being The Crystal Heart (Rapunzel) and Scarlet in the Snow (Beauty and the Beast). Moonlight and Ashes (2012) tackles Cinderella, and is quite possibly the best of the three. Incorporating elements of the story that are usually forgotten in retellings (such as the magical hazel tree) and Masson's own imagination, it’s a fun and unpredictable fantasy adventure.

Selena is a sixteen-year-old girl living with her spineless father and wicked stepmother, as w... Read More

Foxglove Summer: You can take the constable outta London, but…

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch

One of the definitive aspects of Ben Aaronovitch's PETER GRANT series is the fact that it's set in the big smoke (aka London, for all you non-Londoners). So it may come as a surprise to discover that Foxglove Summer (2014), the fifth instalment of the series, is actually set in the countryside. But don't be fooled into thinking this is story about sleepy village life and the occasional nosy neighbour. Far from it. Peter Grant is back along with a myriad of supernatural problems, and he's just as incompetent as he's always been...

Two eleven-year-old girls have gone missing in the rural town of Leominster, Herefordshire. Constable Peter Grant is sent on a routine assignment to check up on an old ... Read More

A Flight of Angels: A beautiful anthology

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

A Flight of Angels by Rebecca Guay (illustrator)

Stories by Holly Black, Bill Willingham, Alisa Kwitney, Louise Hawes and Todd Mitchell

An angel has fallen. Led by their insatiable curiosity, the hosts of fae have followed the descent of the white-winged creature and now gather around his still-breathing body to decide what to do with him. They decide to hold a trial, and present evidence in the form of stories about the deeds of angels to decide whether or not to let him live.

I am fairly new to reading graphic novels, so I do not know how original the conceit is of having mul... Read More

Made Things: A whimsical magical fantasy with serious undertones

Made Things by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Adrian Tchaikovsky is an unusually versatile author. I never know what to expect from him — insect and shapeshifter fantasy, Iron Man-inspired science fiction, and Regency/Napoleonic historical fantasy are just a few examples — but I know it's going to be imaginative and intelligently written. The last work I read by him, Walking to Aldebaran, was science fictional horror with an unusual literary streak. In a nearly 180 degree turn, Tchaikovsky now offers up the novella Made Things (2019), a magical gaslamp fantasy involving living puppets and a heist.

Coppelia is a seventeen-year-old puppeteer, with enough magic to make her a g... Read More

The Queen of Nothing: A thrilling finale

The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black

Holly Black’s FOLK OF THE AIR series just gets better and better. This final novel, The Queen of Nothing (2019) is a thrilling conclusion. You need to read the first two books, The Cruel Prince and The Wicked King, first. There will be spoilers here for those books. You may also want to read The Lost Sisters, a novella that follows The Cruel Prince and provides another perspective on the events of that book.

When we left Jude at the end of Read More

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

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

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 flow... Read More

Briar Rose: Fairy tales and trauma

Briar Rose by Jane Yolen

In the 1980s, Terri Windling created the FAIRY TALE SERIES, a collection of stand-alone retellings for adults, featuring some of the best writers in the field. The series continued into the early 2000s and spans a wide variety of styles, tones, and interpretations of the tales. Jane Yolen’s Briar Rose (1992) was the sixth in the series and combines its fairy tale with an all-too-real historical horror. It won the Mythopoeic Award in 1992, and was nominated for the Nebula.

Becca, the heroine, is a young Jewish woman who grew up being told fairy tales by her grandmother, Gemma. Becca’s favorite was Sleeping Beauty, though Gemma didn’t tell it in the standard way. Now Gemma is dying, and on her de... Read More

The Moon Terror: A wonderfully pulpish double feature

The Moon Terror by A.G. Birch

During my first, recent visit to London, besides doing all the typical touristy things, I also happened to visit several of the very fine bookstores that the great city currently offers. The used-book stores on Charing Cross Road were especially interesting to me, but I also stopped in at Forbidden Planet (so much better than the Forbidden Planet store here in NYC), the mammoth independent bookstore called Foyles, and, of course, the Waterstones on Piccadilly. It was at this gigantic bookstore, supposedly the largest in Europe, where I found the volume in question, The Moon Terror, by A.G. Birch. It was not a hard sell for me; as soon as I read that this short novel originally appeared in the pages of Weird Tales magazine, I purchased it on the spot. As it turns out, this novel made its debut in the May and June 1923 issues of “The Unique Magazine”; th... Read More

The Refrigerator Monologues: A herald of change?

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente

In her Afterword, Catherynne M. Valente lays out the inspiration for 2017’s collection of linked short stories The Refrigerator Monologues. Valente was inspired partly by the work of comics writer Gail Simone, who created and popularized the term “Women in Refrigerators” as a way to describe women cape-and-mask heroes, and how they are treated in conventional comics. As for structure, Valente looked toward Eve Ensler’s groundbreaking theatrical work The Vagina Monologues. To no small extent, though, Valente was galvanized into writing this collection because of her anger at how Gwen ... Read More

The New Voices of Fantasy: A diverse and worthy collection

Reposting to include Skye'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 aren’t as readily available.

A brief summary ... Read More

The October Man: A good introduction to RIVERS OF LONDON

The October Man by Ben Aaronovitch

My friends here at FanLit love Ben Aaronovitch’s RIVERS OF LONDON / PETER GRANT series. I haven’t read any of the novels yet, so when The October Man (2019), a related stand-alone novella, was recently released, I thought it might be the perfect place to jump in.

I was right. Though familiarity with the novels might have made things a little easier, I found The October Man to be both perfectly understandable and enjoyable.

The story stars Tobias Winter, a secondary character from the RIVERS OF LONDON / PETER GRANT series (as I understand it). Tobias, an investigator, is called to the quaint town of Trier in one of Germany’s famous wine regions. He is there to investigate a murder that look... Read More

Midnight Riot: A blast from start to finish

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Midnight Riot (aka Rivers of London in the UK) by Ben Aaronovitch

Peter Grant is a constable-in-training in London’s police force. At the end of his probation period, it looks like he’s in line for a long career of boring desk work in the Case Progression Unit, but that all changes when he draws the luckless duty of guarding a crime scene overnight where, earlier that day, a headless body was found lying on the street. While Peter is freezing his heels off in the cold London night, he is approached by possibly the crime’s only witness — who also happens to be a ghost…

Peter is swiftly recruited into a secret department that focuses on the supernatural and magical, and apprenticed to the mysterious Thomas Nightingale, the leader and only other active member in this centuries-old department. Peter begins the long process of learning... Read More

Lost and Found: Looking out for those who are lost

Lost and Found by Orson Scott Card

Fourteen-year-old Ezekiel has a special power. Not a superpower; though, just a small power: he’s drawn to lost items — hair scrunchies, toys, and even bikes — combined with the innate knowledge of who the owners are and where to go to return the items, and a strong compulsion to return them. Unfortunately, this hasn’t worked out so well for Ezekiel: everyone thinks he stole the things and returned them for the attention or a reward. He’s got quite a file with the police by the time he’s a teenager, and that, combined with his mother’s tragic death when he was four, has made Ezekiel an embittered social pariah. Ezekiel’s actual last name is Bliss, but in his own mind he calls himself Ezekiel Blast.

So when Beth, a tiny classmate with proportionate dwarfism, insists on joining him on his lonely walk to and from school, he actively tries to discourage her overtures of friendship. An... Read More

A Song for a New Day: Celebrates the thrill of live rock music

A Song for a New Day by Sarah Pinsker

Luce Cannon was a rising rock star, traveling with a new band and doing live shows all over the country, until a rash of deadly terrorist attacks, and the threat of more to come, caused the American government to criminalize large public gatherings.

Now, instead of live concerts, musicians and their fans meet virtually, with the fans wearing hoodies equipped with technology that allows them to safely experience the perception of being with others at a show. But Luce and like-minded artists never bought into this concept and aren’t willing to sell their souls to StageHoloLive, the big corporation that produces these events in “Hoodspace.”

Working out of her parents’ home, Rosemary Laws provides customer service for Superwally, an internet superstore that sells StageHoloLive (SHL) merchandise. Rosemary’s job isn’t bad — it’s secure and appealingly gamified — but ... Read More