4

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

Peasprout Chen: Battle of Champions: Try the audio version

Peasprout Chen: Battle of Champions by Henry Lien

A surprise for me last year was how much I enjoyed Henry Lien’s Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword. I would never have picked up that book if it hadn’t been nominated for the Andre Norton Nebula Award for Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction. It’s about a girl named Peasprout Chen who, along with her little brother Cricket, is sent from her rural province to her country’s capital city to attend an elite school for students who practice the art of wu liu, which is basically martial arts on ice skates.

When they arrive, Peasprout and Cricket face many of the same challenges that all fantasy readers know that poor rural kids face when sent to magi... Read More

The Deep: A haunting story about memories

The Deep by Rivers Solomon, Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, Jonathan Snipes

Readers who pay attention to the Hugo Award category called “Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)” may recall that one of the 2018 finalists for the award was a hip hop song called “The Deep” by the band clipping which is fronted by Grammy- and Tony-Award winner Daveed Diggs who played Thomas Jefferson in Hamilton... Read More

The Broken Ones: A fitting prequel to the MALEDICTION TRILOGY

The Broken Ones by Danielle L. Jensen

This is a prequel novel to Danielle Jensen's MALEDICTION TRILOGY, which is comprised of Stolen Songbird, Hidden Huntress and Warrior Witch. A lot of people like to read books series in chronological order, but I would highly recommend not doing that here, as The Broken Ones (2017) well and truly assumes you've already read the original trilogy.

Beneath the Forsaken Mountain is the city of Trollus, ruled over by a tyrannical king and his son Tristan. But unbeknownst to on... Read More

Winter of Fire: Just as powerful now

Reposting to include Rebecca's review of the new reprint edition.

Winter of Fire by Sherryl Jordan

Sherryl Jordan is a New Zealand-based author of young adult and children’s fantasy fiction. In Winter of Fire (1993) she tells the story of Elsha, a sixteen year old girl born into the enslaved underclass called the Quelled. As the sun has disappeared from the world, a memory only alive in mythology, the Quelled are forced to mine for the firestones that are the people's only source of warmth. But Elsha has a rebellious spirit and is often in trouble with the brutal overseers at the mine. They are from the upper class, the people known as the Chosen.

Elsha's life is changed forever when she is chosen to be the handmaid of the legendry Firelord. The Firelord is the most important man in the world as he possesses the power to divine for firestones, the life fuel of e... Read More

Kingdom of Ash: The grand finale

Kingdom of Ash by Sarah J. Maas

So I finally made it. Kingdom of Ash (2018) was almost three times as large as the first book in the THRONE OF GLASS series, but I got there in the end.

In the seventh book of Sarah J. Maas's fantasy epic, the combined forces of humans, faes and witches are moving their armies into position to fend off the Valg demons that are advancing across the continent of Erilea.

But their leader Aelin Galathynius is missing, having let herself get captured by the Fae Queen Maeve at the conclusion of Empire of Storms. Now she's locked in an iron coffin, undergoing daily torture as her nemesis tries to wrest the location of the Wyrdkeys from her mind.

In... Read More

Misery: Imprisoned in Nurse Ratched’s guest bedroom

Misery by Stephen King

If you've read one Stephen King novel, you've read nearly all of them. And yet people keep coming back for more. Published in 1987, Misery explores King's relationship with his most obsessive readers while also wrestling with his own addictions.

Misery's plot is pretty straightforward: Paul Sheldon is an author of best-selling novels who one night drunkenly drives into a blizzard and crashes. When he wakes up, he has been (not rescued, but) kidnapped by Nurse Ratched, here named Annie Wilkes.

Annie is a nurse who has access to painkillers and although she helps Paul to heal, she is obsessed with his novels. She insists that he write for her.
Read More

Stormsong: A gripping, thought-provoking sequel

Stormsong by C.L. Polk

2020’s Stormsong, in THE KINGSTON CYCLE is the long-awaited sequel to C.L. Polk’s wonderful Witchmark. This review may contain spoilers for Witchmark.

Witchmark followed Miles, a doctor and former prisoner of war, and a member of his world’s faerie race, the Amaranthine, as they solved a murder, uncovered a plot to assassinate Aeland’s queen, and revealed the murderous corruption that lay at the root of Aeland’s magical progress. Along the way, we met Miles’s bright, ambitious and privileged sister Grace.

In Stormsong, Grace is the main character. The second book is more of a political t... Read More

Children of Time: Too long but fascinating

Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Children of Time (2015), the first book in Adrian Tchaikovsky’s CHILDREN OF TIME series, is an expansive and visionary epic that speculates about the future of humanity.

In the first chapter, we meet a scientist who has managed to extend her life so that she can create her own world. Her plan is to drop monkeys on a terraformed planet, let loose a virus that will uplift them, wait until they evolve, and then introduce herself as their god. Without her knowledge, something goes wrong and evolution goes off in a very different direction than planned.

Next we meet a spaceship whose crew is in grave danger because Earth, which has been ruined and is at war, has cut off resources and support, purposely stranding all of its space-faring brethr... Read More

Agency: Sounds an alarm

Agency by William Gibson

William Gibson’s latest novel, Agency (2020), is a follow-up to The Peripheral which needs to be read first. In The Peripheral we learned that in the not-too-distant future, someone will discover some software on a secret server in China which allows users to interact with people using the internet in the past (our modern day). Contacting people in the past makes a new timeline branch called a “stub.” The future people who create the stub can play around with it, influencing the economy, politics, and even waging war.

The future people we met in The Peripheral are a group of friends named Wilf, Lev, and Ash who live in London, which has... Read More

Deathless: Demands careful reading and close attention

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente

CLASSIFICATION: Weaving together fairy tales and history, Deathless is kind of like Pan's Labyrinth, if it was told by Hayao Miyazaki and Neil Gaiman. Highly recommended for fans of adult fairy tales, Russian folklore, and Catherynne M. Valente.

FORMAT/INFO: Deathless is 352 pages long divided over a Prologue, 6 Parts, and 30 numbered/titled chapters. Narration is in the third-person, mostly via the protagonist, Marya Morevna. Deathless is self-contained. March 29, 2011 marks the North American Hardcover publication of Deathless via Read More

Knife Children: A pleasant stand-alone SHARING KNIFE novella

Knife Children by Lois McMaster Bujold

Knife Children (2019) is a stand-alone novella set in Lois McMaster Bujold’s SHARING KNIFE world. I wasn’t a fan of that series because I didn’t like its main character, Fawn, but I’m a huge fan of all of Bujold’s other work, and I think she’s one of the best speculative fiction writers that’s ever existed, so I was happy to try this stand-alone story in which Fawn played only an insignificant role. You don’t need to be familiar with SHARING KNIFE to understand and enjoy Knife Children. It will probably make you want to read SHARING KNIFE, though, so I hope you’ll like Fawn better than I did.

Barr Foxbrush is a Lakewalker — a protege of Dag who we met in the previous Read More

Hellboy (Vol. 11): The Bride of Hell and Others: Another Solid Hellboy Collection

Hellboy (Vol. 11): The Bride of Hell and Others by Mike Mignola (writer), Richard Corben (artist), Kevin Nowlan (artist), and Scott Hampton (artist).

“Hellboy in Mexico, or A Drunken Blur” is a funny story about Hellboy’s lost five months in Mexico drinking and wrestling. The story starts in 1982 with Hellboy and Abe Sapien in Mexico together. Abe Sapien finds an old wrestling poster showing Hellboy with three other wrestlers. Hellboy tells him that it was from 1956. Hellboy then tells Abe the story of how he met the three wrestling brothers who were also monster hunters. Hellboy joined the brothers to fight monsters during the day and party at night. Then one night one of the brothers is taken by the vampires, and Hellboy goes in search of his lost friend. The story takes a strange turn once they locate the lost brother. Oh, yes, and there’s plenty of wrestling action.

“Double Feature of Evil” contains two stories tha... Read More

Dispel Illusion: A satisfactory ending to this time travel trilogy

Dispel Illusion by Mark Lawrence

Tadiana:   Kat:

Dispel Illusion (2019) is the final book in Mark Lawrence’s IMPOSSIBLE TIMES trilogy. Readers will need to finish One Word Kill and Limited Wish before beginning Dispel Illusion, so we’ll assume you’ve done that. Kindly, Mark Lawrence provides a recap of previous important events at the beginning of this book. (Thank you, Mr. Lawrence!) Then the story begins, literally, with an explosion. It’s a singular explosion, though: time itself is exploding in their lab, affecting various things in different ways. Dangerously ... Read More

Hellboy (Vol. 10): The Crooked Man and Others: Hellboy in the Appalachian Mountains

Hellboy (Vol. 10): The Crooked Man and Others by Mike Mignola (writer), Richard Corben (artist), Duncan Fegredo (artist), Joshua Dysart (artist), and Jason Shawn Alexander (artist)

The first story,“The Crooked Man,” is an Eisner-winning comic and the first Hellboy tale to take place in the Appalachian woods and is based on the folklore of that region (though, in an introduction to the story, Mignola makes clear that this story is not an adaptation of any existing story). He also lets us know in this introduction to the three-issue comic that he wrote this tale with artist Richard Corben specifically in mind. Opening in 1958 in Virginia, “The Crooked Man” is about Tom, who comes home after twenty years to find the two women he knew in childhood indebted to the devil, and only one of them, Cora Fisher, wants release. The other woman, Effie, enjoys being a witch and laughs at their suffering. Hellboy goes along on the journey with Tom and C... Read More

Mooncakes: Delightful and suspenseful

Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker & Wendy Xu

Mooncakes (2019) is the story of Nova and Tam, two young people who are exploring their connections to magic. They are both, in their own way, deeply connected to the magical world and must decide what that means to them. Their relationships — with the people around them and each other — fuel the emotional core of this whimsical, down-to-earth, LGBTQ+ narrative.

I was delighted by Mooncakes. First, Wendy Xu’s art is spot-on for the tone of the story — in some ways it is cute and colourful, but there are some hard, emotional moments and magic-fueled fights that don’t feel out of place in the chosen style. The characters are designed uniquely, and the strength of those designs support their distinct personalities. Mooncakes has a wonderful cast of characters, in the most literal sense: full of wonder. Ev... Read More

The Dark Fantastic: A thoughtful addition to race analysis in fantasy

The Dark Fantastic by Ebony Elizabeth Thomas

In The Dark Fantastic (2019), Ebony Elizabeth Thomas offers up a thoughtful and important exploration of race in fantasy, looking in particular at four case studies: Rue in The Hunger Games, Gwen in Merlin, Bonnie in The Vampire Diaries, and Harry Potter. As should happen with books like these, reading it forces you to see things in a different light that you’ve long viewed and that have grown familiar.

Thomas defines her terminology early on as “the role that racial difference plays in our fantastically storied imaginations,” and then distinguishes it from Afrofuturism or the Black Fantastic in its recogni... Read More

The Secret Commonwealth: It’s complicated

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

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 Read More

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