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Mr. Meeson’s Will: Half adventure novel, half legal thriller

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Mr. Meeson’s Will by H. Rider Haggard

Editor's note: Mr. Meeson’s Will is free in Kindle format

Mr. Meeson’s Will was first printed in book form in October 1888, after having first appeared earlier that year in The Illustrated London News. It was H. Rider Haggard’s 11th novel (out of 58), and one in which his experiences as both a writer and aspiring lawyer were given vent. The novel is at once a tale of adventure, a critique of the publishing industry in late 19th century England, and a satire on the English legal system.

In the book’s first half, Augusta Smithers — our heroine and a successful author, who has unwittingly entered into an unfair contract with Meeson’s pub... Read More

The Prefect: Complex detective procedural set among orbitals

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The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds

The Prefect is the fifth Alastair Reynolds book I’ve read in his REVELATION SPACE series, though it is a stand-alone and set earlier in chronology than the other books. By the time of the main trilogy Revelation Space (2000), Redemption Ark (2002), and Absolution Gap (2003), the Glitter Band of 10,000 orbitals has already been destroyed by the corrosive Melding Plague, so we see only its wrecked aftermath. With such tantalizing hints, it is ... Read More

Dark Shadows: Heiress of Collinwood: Perfect for fans of the cult TV series

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Heiress of Collinwood by Lara Parker

Heiress of Collinwood (2016) is the fourth DARK SHADOWS novel written by Lara Parker, who happens to have been an original cast member on the gothic horror soap opera Dark Shadows, which ran on American television from 1966 – 1971 and has inspired a large number of tie-in novels. (Ms. Parker starred in the role of Angélique Bouchard Collins, in addition to a few other characters.) Contrary to the comedic tone of Tim Burton’s 2012 film based on the show, the original soap opera was quite serious and melodramatic, and Heiress of Collinwood follows that same vein.

Book 1



Our tale begins in Collinsport, Maine, in the distant year of 1797. The Collins family’s young governess, Victoria Winters, previously became... Read More

Last Year: Time travel tourism

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Last Year by Robert Charles Wilson

Jesse Cullum works security at the City of Futurity – in fact, he just saved President Ulysses S. Grant from an assassination attempt, though he lost his Oakleys in the process.

The science fiction premise of Robert Charles Wilson’s Last Year (2016), is outlined in its opening scene. Oakleys are sunglasses that come from our time, but Ulysses S. Grant was one of the most important generals in the American Civil War. How can both exist in the same place? Well, in this novel, a “mirror” allows people to travel back in time, but to a specific point in the past — and it will produce a different a future. The people who travel back are tourists, and the City of Futurity, run by August Kemp, makes money from the past’s weal... Read More

The Tengu’s Game of Go: The second generation rises to make things right

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The Tengu’s Game of Go by Lian Hearn

At the beginning of THE TALE OF SHIKANOKO, Shikanoko’s father played a game with a tengu. He lost, and what he lost cast an entire kingdom into disaster. Shikanoko, whose birth name was Kazumaru, was tainted by sorcery and as much a victim as a wielder of it. Now, in The Tengu’s Game of Go, the second generation rises to try to set things right.

Lian Hearn’s four-book saga reads convincingly like a Japanese tale cycle, and in The Tengu’s Game of Go, elements which seemed to have left the story return, some in surprising ways. When the story opens, Shikanoko, who is trapped within the deer mask, is living a half-deer, half-man existence in the Darkwood, and Yoshi, the hidden emperor, is ... Read More

The Sentinel: Near-classic horror thriller

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The Sentinel by Jeffrey Konvitz

I’d never heard of Jeffrey Konvitz’s superb horror/thriller, The Sentinel (1974), until I saw it promoted on a couple of discount ebook newsletters I receive. The cover, while lacking any subtlety, sold me on the whole horror-wrapped-up-with religion angle. And while the image may be a bit over the top, The Sentinel slow boils its simple premise and bubbles with persistent and pounding tension.

The Sentinel is reminiscent of Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby, William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist, and to a lesser extent Read More

The Fate of the Tearling: An explosive ending to our feisty heroine’s story

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The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

With The Fate of the Tearling (2016), Erika Johansen concludes her QUEEN OF THE TEARLING trilogy, which began in 2014’s The Queen of the Tearling and continued in 2015’s The Invasion of the Tearling. Fans of this YA series have eagerly waited for answers to questions posed throughout the preceding books: What makes Queen Kelsea Glynn special, and why can she experience memories and lifetimes that aren’t her own? What is the significance of the magical blue sapphires she wears, and why does the Red Mort Que... Read More

The Family Plot: You’ll think twice about a nice hot shower after this

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Reposting to include Jana's new review.

The Family Plot by Cherie Priest

With The Family Plot, Cherie Priest takes a break from steampunk and Lovecraftiana to tackle a tried-and-true convention, the haunted-house story. The book, filled with atmospherics, family feuds and long-buried secrets, is a spooky read that will leave you side-eyeing bathrooms and showers for days after you’ve finished.

The Dutton family business is salvage, and Music City Salvage has just purchased a bonanza of a job — a full Southern estate, built in the 1800s, which includes a mansion, a barn and a carriage house. The barn is made of American chestnut, a tree which is extinct; the lumber alone is a goldmine. The owner of the estate plans to have all the buildings raze... Read More

The Last Wish: Engaging dark fantasy stories

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Reposting to include Tim's new review.

The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

The Last Wish (1993 in Polish, 2007 in English) is the first book in the WITCHER series by best-selling Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. You might recognize the name from the popular video games based on the books. The series features a hero named Geralt of Rivia who, when he was an orphaned child, was transformed into something more than human through a process involving magic and drugs. Now he has white hair and some subtle superhuman powers — for example, he can see in the dark and he is stronger and faster than other men. He roams the world looking for odd thankless jobs that only a Witcher can do.

... Read More

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy: “Best” sets the bar high and these stories clear it

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Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016 edited by Karen Joy Fowler & John Joseph Adams

Karen Joy Fowler is the guest editor of the Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016. This is the second book in the annual series, which John Joseph Adams conceived of, and he still plays a large role in the selection process.

It is worth reading both Adams’ and Fowler’s introductions. Fowler’s is brilliant because she talks about the world, fiction, fantasy and language. Adam’s is instructive. He walks us through the selection process. This is where I discovered that the title, “best of science fiction and fantasy” is quite literal. It’s not “science fiction/fantasy” or “science fantasy” or “science fiction or fantasy.” The book c... Read More

The Tower of Swallows: Sapkowski always subverts expectations

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The Tower of Swallows by Andrzej Sapkowski

Warning: This review of the sixth book in the WITCHER series will necessarily have some spoilers for the plots of the previous books.

The Tower of Swallows, published in Polish in 1997 and translated into English in 2016, is the sixth and penultimate book in Andrzej Sapkowski’s WITCHER series. I’ve enjoyed all of these books. If you look at the covers and read the publishers’ promotional materials, you get the feeling that WITCHER is just another one of those medieval-style epic fantasies full of elves who are tall and beautiful but arrogant, dwarves who wield axes and mine precious metals and gems, kings and courtiers who conspire against each other, and magicians and ... Read More

Hidden Universe Travel Guides: The Complete Marvel Cosmos by Marc Sumerak

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Hidden Universe Travel Guides: The Complete Marvel Cosmos by Marc Sumerak

Imagine a mash-up of Lonely Planet and Fodors written by a group of snarky been-there-done-that travelers and you’ve pretty much got Hidden Universe Travel Guides: The Complete Marvel Cosmos. As the title says, it’s a travel guide to the many settings of the Marvel Universe (sometimes the settings are a universe), with a jaunty-voiced narrator whose more formal guidebook descriptions are constantly interrupted by the less-formal commentary of the Guardians of the Galaxy. It all makes for a fast-paced, mildly informative, and often funny trip through the many, many... Read More

Faller: A well-plotted fast-paced story with a few issues at the close

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Faller by Will McIntosh

Fair warning: I’m going to reveal one plot point in my discussion that barely qualifies as a spoiler (really, the reader figures this out pretty immediately), but if you have any concerns don’t read past paragraph four (ending with “bioweapons”).

Will McIntosh’s new techno thriller Faller (2016) is characterized by a unique setting/premise, some early plot twists, and strong characterization, and though I would say the story devolves a bit by the end, for the most part it’s a quick-moving and engaging story that also tackles some thought-provoking questions.

We open with the eponymous protagonist coming to on a city street with screams and “thick black smoke” in the background. He and those around him have been struc... Read More

The Land of Laughs: An entertaining and thought-provoking tale

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The Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll

The Land of Laughs was written back in 1980 and I wonder how many readers know about it now. It’s written by Jonathan Carroll, who has written a number of offbeat modern fantasies, and I only know about it because it was selected by David Pringle for his Modern Fantasy: The 100 Best Novels. Even that is probably not enough to put it on most radars, but Neil Gaiman also chose it for his “Neil Gaiman Presents” series of audiobooks, so I listened to it during a series of long walks along Tokyo Bay in Rinkai Park. It’s narrated by Edoardo Ballerini, who does a nice job of capturing the strange events of the story. Read More

The Fade: One of Wooding’s first excursions into the world of adult fantasy

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The Fade by Chris Wooding

Nations divided by vast lakes, destinations defined by stalagmites and minerals, a world without a sun: The Fade (2007) takes place in an unfathomable network of caves beneath the surface of an unknown planet. Here the reader finds a cavernous underground in the midst of jealous war. Two distinct races of beings fighting over their shared bubbles of space. It is on the battlefield that we meet the protagonist and learn that she is a highly skilled and thoroughly trained one-woman war machine. Soon, we also learn that she has a loving family and a complicated set of allegiances. This is the foundation upon which The Fade is built.

Orna is an elite assassin and highly trained warrior, who fulfills many roles for the family she has been sworn to serve since birth. It is while she is on a mission in the midst of the ongoing war that she is ... Read More

The Empire of Ice Cream: Dynamic range and dynamic prose

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The Empire of Ice Cream by Jeffrey Ford

Emerging in the late morning of an overcast day (one novel in 1988 and a handful of short stories over the decade that followed), there was not much indication Jeffrey Ford would become as prolific as he has. In 1997 he produced THE WELL-BUILT CITY trilogy which did well critically, but was not a commercial success. A deluge of short fiction followed, however, and since 2000 he has produced more than ninety stories amidst a couple of novels. Quantity and quality often quarrelsome bedfellows, Ford proves harmony is possible, a fact wonderfully exemplified by his second collection The Empire of Ice Cream: Stories (2006). What else do you want on a warm, sunny afternoon? Read More

If the Magic Fits: A castle filled with magical dresses and adventure

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If the Magic Fits by Susan Maupin Schmid

In the kingdom of Eliora, eleven year old Darling Dimple is an orphaned servant in Princess Mariposa’s castle, a lowly pot scrubber in the under-cellar of the castle kitchens. She dreams of being a mighty sailor or a great enchantress ― and since she lives in a magic-filled castle built by dragons, surely adventures will come her way! But her daydreams lead to trouble with the castle’s Supreme Scrubstress, who doesn’t take kindly to being splashed with dirty brown dishwater when Darling and her friends are fooling around one day. So when the Wardrobe Mistress comes downstairs looking for a new girl to help press the Princess’s linens, and the Supreme Scrubstress finds out that it’s “hard work that requires close attention,” she gleefully volunteers Darling.

Darling’s new job as Under-presser turns out not to be such a punishment:... Read More

Hag-Seed: A mostly magical updating of The Tempest

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Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

In the Vintage Hogarth Series, contemporary authors put their individual novelistic spin on a Shakespeare play. So far the series has seen the release of Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time (The Winter’s Tale), Howard Jacobson’s Shylock is My Name (The Merchant of Venice), Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl (The Taming of the Shrew), and now Margaret Atwood’s Hag-seed (2016), which for most of its 300+ pages is a wonderfully charming, witty, and at times moving update of The Tempest, set not on a mysterious island but instead in a medium-security prison in Canada.
... Read More

The Jennifer Morgue: Ian Fleming meets H.P. Lovecraft

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

The Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross

The Jennifer Morgue (2006), the second novel in Charles Stross’ LAUNDRY FILES, is a science fiction spy thriller that’s an obvious homage to Ian Fleming and H.P. Lovecraft. Bob has been sent to the Caribbean to try to find out why Ellis Billington, an evil megalomaniac billionaire, is interested in The Jennifer Morgue, a place deep in the ocean which may be an access point into our universe by tentacled eldritch horrors. For this assignment, Bob is paired up with someone from the American agency that deals with this kind of supernatural stuff — a gorgeous woman possessed by a succubus.

As usual, Bob has been insufficiently briefed about his mission, so he’s bewil... Read More

The Unreal and the Real: Omnibus of anthropological SF and literary tales

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The Unreal and the Real: The Selected Short Stories by Ursula K. Le Guin

Everyone with even a passing knowledge of SF/Fantasy will likely have heard of Ursula K. Le Guin, one of the giants of the field whose work has transcended genre and literary categories. Her SFF works have ranged from mythical fantasy such as the EARTHSEA CYCLE to brilliant studies of gender, identity, and political ideologies like The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed. She proudly identifies herself as a SF writer, but one whose intell... Read More

Land of Dreams: Strong echoes of Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes

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Land of Dreams by James P. Blaylock

James P. Blaylock is a fabulist, a teller of magic realist tales that reframe our everyday world in more colorful, fanciful, sinister, and whimsical ways. His style and themes often overlap with the works of Tim Powers and they have collaborated on several stories and even have shared the character William Ashbless, which is no surprise since they met as students at Cal State Fullerton. There they also befriended author K.W. Jeter (who coined the term “steampunk” and wrote perhaps the earliest full-length example, 1987’s Read More

The Honey Month: A delicate and unusual collection inspired by honey

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The Honey Month by Amal El-Mohtar

Having recently re-read Chocolat I found myself with a hankering for more of that winning combination of sugar and magic. It was lucky then that I stumbled across Amal El-Mohtar’s The Honey Month which provided just what I was after in perfect, petit-four-sized nuggets.

The Honey Month was conceived when the author received a gift of assorted honeys from a new-found friend. Finding herself inspired by the smell, taste and texture of each honey she wrote a quick review of each one, followed by a short story or a poem set to the individual sensation each honey garnered. The result is the Honey month, a collection of 28 magical, whimsical snippets, each as unique as the honey that birthed it.

I am hard pressed to say what I enjoyed more, the storie... Read More

Frankenstein: A classic for a reason

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Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley’s first novel was written in 1818 when Shelley (then Mary Godwin) was only 20. She was staying with her husband-to-be, the married poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, on Lake Geneva. As a kind of game, Lord Byron, their friend and companion, proposed that each person in the party write a ghost story. Byron wrote the third canto of Childe Harold; another friend, Polidori, was inspired to write the first vampire novel, “The Vampyre.” But Mary Shelley’s response to the prompt would ultimately become the most famous: Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus (betcha didn’t know about that subtitle, huh?).

If you’re mostly familiar with the plot of Frankenstein from the 1931 film or various parodies of it, you might have missed a lot about this particular book. Or, more likely, have i... Read More

The Hundred Names of Darkness: Satisfying and heartwarming sequel

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The Hundred Names of Darkness by Nilanjana Roy

In The Hundred Names of Darkness, Nilanjana Roy comes back to the cat colony she so convincingly established in The Wildings, back to the neighborhood of Nizamuddin in Delhi, and her irrepressible young Sender, Mara.

The challenges the cats are facing now are more nebulous — and more realistic — than they were in The Wildings. Instead of a tightly-knit and vividly characterized group of feral cats (led by the chilling Datura, and a more convincingly mad villain I’ve never met!), the threat now is human development. The Bigfeet are building roads, cutting down trees, and polluting Nizamuddin. This huma... Read More

Almuric: Overwhelming storytelling gusto

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Almuric by Robert E. Howard

It is truly remarkable how much work pulp author Robert E. Howard managed to accomplish during his brief 30 years of life. Indeed, a look at his bibliography, on a certain Wiki site, should surely flabbergast any reader who knows the Texan writer only as the creator of Conan the Cimmerian, King Kull, Bran Mak Morn, Solomon Kane and, essentially, the entire genre known as Sword & Sorcery. Hundreds upon hundreds of titles can be found there, in such variegated categories as boxing, Westerns, Oriental exoticism, sword & sorcery (natch), horror, fantasy, crime, historical tales, detective stories, adventure … even comedy, “spicy stories,” essays and poetry. But of all these myriad story types, one salient fact emerges: Most of them are just that — short stories. Howard, de... Read More