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Grey Sister: A solid follow-up

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Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence

Grey Sister, second novel in Mark Lawrence's BOOK OF THE ANCESTOR series, is a good follow-up to its predecessor. It's not a perfect novel, but on the whole it's exciting, well-written, and very gripping.

Since the last installment in the series, two years have passed, and Nona Grey is still a novice at the convent of Sweet Mercy. Her classes -- and her magical abilities -- have continued apace, teaching her to be deadlier than ever, but two years have brought her no closer to avenging her friend Hessa or recovering the convent's prized Ship Heart. Instead, Nona once again finds herself facing more typical schoolgirl problems such as sneering bullies and difficult exams. But just as it seems that her adventuring days might be behind her, she finds herself caught up in the long-gestating pla... Read More

All Systems Red: The adventures of an introverted killing machine

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All Systems Red by Martha Wells

The narrator of All Systems Red (2017), the 2017 Nebula award-winning novella by Martha Wells, is a once-nameless cyborg security unit or SecUnit that has given itself the name Murderbot (for reasons disclosed midway through the story). Using its own unprecedented and highly unauthorized initiative, Murderbot has hacked the governor module software that controls its actions and obligates it to be obedient. But instead of going on a killing spree, as one might expect given the name it adopted, Murderbot elects to spend its spare hours watching countless hours of video entertainment and trying not to interact more than is necessary with the group of eight humans that it’s responsible for protecting, a survey group of eight scientists called PreservationA... Read More

Barry’s Deal: Frenetic and fun

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Barry’s Deal by Lawrence M. Schoen

The world and characters of Barry’s Deal (2017) will require no introduction to long time Lawrence M. Schoen readers. The Amazing Conroy, a space-traveling hypnotist and his companion Reggie, a buffalito (buffalo dog), have cropped up several times before, not least in Schoen’s last novella (Barry’s Tale, 2014). Nevertheless, the internet assured me that this latest installment can be read as a stand-alone novella and, as it’s one of this year’s Nebula nominees, I gave it a go.

Conroy and Reggie have just touched down on Triton, an arcology known for its opulent casino hotel and black-market activity. Now fabulously rich, Conroy i... Read More

The Faeries of Sadieville: A lovely ending to the TUFA series

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The Faeries of Sadieville by Alex Bledsoe

The Faeries of Sadieville (2018) is the final novel in Alex Bledsoe’s TUFA series. You’ll get more out of it if you’re read the previous TUFA novels, but it’s not strictly necessary to do so since each novel features a stand-alone story with overlapping characters.

In The Faeries of Sadieville we meet two graduate students who are dating each other; Justin, from the English department, is studying how folk music came to Appalachia, and Veronica is getting a Masters in parapsychology from the psychology department. (Excuse me for just a moment while I interrupt this review to put on my psychology professor hat, slip behind the podium, and declare with authority that... Read More

Strange Survivors: How Organisms Attack and Defend in the Game of Life

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Strange Survivors: How Organisms Attack and Defend in the Game of Life by Oné R. Pagán

Oné R. Pagán is a university biology professor and a blogger, and both sides come out in this entertainingly informative look at the various ways life tries to, well, stay alive (i.e. not get eaten). As he says in the introduction to Strange Survivors: How Organisms Attack and Defend in the Game of Life (2018), he “wrote this book with the semi-mythical ‘interested layperson’ in mind ... [so] I will not be excessively technical, but neither will I be patronizing ... I’ve tried to write as if we were having a conversation over coffee.” Thus, like most writers of popular science, Pagán is aiming at that sweet spot where he doesn’t lose his reader to jargon or overly-abstruse concepts or talk to his readers as if they struggled to complete elementary school. And... Read More

Akata Witch: An exciting, imaginative, and heart-warming story with a unique setting

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Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Sunny Nwazue, an albino who needs to stay out of the sun, has always been different from the other kids in her school. When her family returned to Nigeria after living in the United States for most of Sunny’s childhood, she never quite found her place. Her strangeness becomes even more obvious when she sees a vision showing what appears to be scenes from the end of the world.

When Sunny finally makes a few friends, she begins to realize there's a reason for her strangeness, and that she's not the only weird kid in town. She finds out that she belongs to the Leopard People, an ancient bloodline that endows its descendants with various magical abilities. As Sunny is initiated into this new family, she learns that she and her friends are part of a prophecy related to her frightening apocalyptic vision. Without much knowledge or skills, Sunny and her friends mu... Read More

The City on the Other Side: A charming graphic novel

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The City on the Other Side by Mairghread Scott & Robin Robinson

A devastating war is being waged between the Seelie and Unseelie courts — Coscar, the Unseelie king, has kidnapped the daughter of King Ro’hish in revenge for the theft of a precious item. Coscar’s campaign has been a long and bloody one, and it seems that he’ll stop at nothing to retrieve what was taken. Meanwhile, in our world, little Isabel comes from a wealthy Latinx family and lives with her mother in San Francisco, sometime shortly after the great Quake of 1906. Her mother is going to Europe for the summer and doesn’t want any distractions, so against Isabel’s fervent wishes, she is left with her artist father, who lives outside the city and doesn’t much seem to care about her presence. While wandering in the woods outside her father’s studio, Isabel meets a mortally wounded messenger from the Seelie realm, who tas... Read More

The City of Lost Fortunes: A rich gumbo full of passion, life, and magic

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The City of Lost Fortunes by Bryan Camp

Bryan Camp’s debut novel The City of Lost Fortunes (2018) is a loving ode to New Orleans and everything that makes it superlative: the food, the music, the soul-crushing humidity, and of course, the people. Ambitious, insightful, and filled with commentary on the diversity and similarities across world mythologies, this novel is absolutely the product of a writer who is worth keeping an eye on.

Invited to an exquisitely bizarre card game that he’s compelled to attend, Jude Dubuisson discovers himself in the company of some terrifying entities: a vampire, an ancient Egyptian god, New Orleans’ own god of fortune, a famous voodoo loa, and a literal angel. Jude is, himself, the son of a trickster god and has the ability to find lost items just by touching the people who have lost them, so he’s got just ... Read More

A Magical Match: Gives us just what we expect (and want)

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A Magical Match by Juliet Blackwell

In A Magical Match, the ninth book in Juliet Blackwell’s WITCHCRAFT MYSTERIES, vintage clothing store owner Lily Ivory is preparing for her wedding, but something is wrong with her groom. He’s been acting strangely, and then he is accused of a murder. Witnesses saw him at the scene, and it looks like an open and shut case, until Lily realizes there may be a magical explanation. Can she discover the truth and get her fiancé out of jail before the wedding?

Sometimes it’s not necessary to write a book review and this is one of those times. Fans of Juliet Blackwell's paranormal cozy mysteries just need to know that A Magical Match maintains the quality of the WITCHCRAFT MYSTERIES Read More

The Heart Forger: A strong sequel

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The Heart Forger by Rin Chupeco

The Heart Forger's (2018) prequel ended with the young bone witch, Tea, about to march upon the kingdom with an army of corpses and a bevy of monsters to boot. We pick up the story precisely where it was left off with Tea's shock lover (for those of you who remember the twist ending of The Bone Witch) in tow.

Sticking to the same formula used in The Bone Witch, the narrative jumps between past and present, once more in a style reminiscent of THE KINGKILLER CHRONICLE series. The bard continues to narrate Tea's march upon the royals in the present day, presenting a very different version to the novice asha (that is, a ... Read More

Arm of the Sphinx: Senlin is still ascending

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Arm of the Sphinx by Josiah Bancroft

Arm of the Sphinx (2018) is the sequel to Senlin Ascends (2017), Josiah Bancroft’s extremely popular novel that was originally self-published but later picked up by Orbit Books after it was highlighted by Mark Lawrence in his Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off contest a couple years ago. I loved Senlin Ascends, a story about a man named Thomas Senlin who is accidentally separated from his wife at the base of the Tower of Babel. T... Read More

Memory: Why Bujold is secretly revolutionary

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold

My copy of Memory looks like it was reread several dozen times and then shoved in the bottom of a backpack and schlepped a few hundred thousand miles (it was). It’s my favorite book in Lois McMaster Bujold’s VORKOSIGAN SAGA, which is a series made up of some of my favorite books. But it isn’t high literature or uber-intellectual science fiction or the kind of book that people call “genre bending.” The plot is pure, fast-paced, crime-solving fun, like the rest of the series. It’s just a cheap paperback.

But it moved me, and continues to move me. This review is my attempt to understand how and why. After some thought and another rereading, I’ve come to suspect that it’s a book built on tiny, imperfectly perfect human interactions. The meat of Memory isn’t... Read More

The Scarlet Plague: Jack London makes London Magazine

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The Scarlet Plague by Jack London

Editor's note: Because it's in the public domain, it's easy to find an inexpensive electronic copy of this book.

By the time Jack London released his post-apocalyptic novel The Scarlet Plague in 1912, the author was 36 years old — just four years shy of his premature passing in 1916 — and yet had already managed to cram in more incident and adventure into those three dozen years than most folks do in their lifetime. Since his birth in San Francisco in 1876, he had worked on a sealing schooner, done a stint as an oyster pirate, participated in the Klondike Gold Rush (in 1897), played the part of a war correspondent in the Russo-Japanese War (1904), operated a ranch, been married twice, and had released over 100 short stories... Read More

How The Universe Works: An Illustrated Guide to the Cosmos and All We Know About It

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How the Universe Works by Chartwell Books

Though not without some issues, How the Universe Works is generally an excellent reference work for a decently wide range of readers young to old (I’d guess it’s targeted at older teens and adults). Elementary school children will feel a little overwhelmed by some of the text, but the wonderful graphics: cut-away diagrams, timelines, etc., will provide them some clear and manageable info. Older young readers will follow the textual information better and the illustrations will serve as enhancement and clarification, while older readers who know some of this information will find the illustrations allow for better visualization while the text will serve as concise reminders.

Chapter One deals with cosmography, opening with a good visual “zoom out” to give a sense of our place in the universe, moving from the solar ... Read More

Scythe: Killing with (or without) kindness

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Scythe by Neal Shusterman

I’m unfamiliar with Neal Shusterman’s other novels and his work on television shows like Animorphs and Goosebumps, but simply based on what I enjoyed about Scythe (2016) and considering that it was nominated for the Printz Award in 2017, I feel confident in saying that he knows how to write for his audience while throwing in some interesting curveballs that keep this novel, the first in a dystopian YA trilogy, from feeling like a rubber-stamp duplication of every mediocre example of that genre.

Scythe sets up a future world in which humanity no longer fears aging, disease, famine, or war — we have eliminated our worst foes and national boundaries, and now, basic needs are met by a powerful global A.I. known as Thunderhead. (Modern cloud storage turned up to 11, basically.... Read More

Borders of Infinity: Three important stories about Miles

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

Borders of Infinity by Lois McMaster Bujold (contains the novellas “The Mountains of Mourning,” “Labyrinth,” “The Borders of Infinity”)

Borders of Infinity has a different structure than the earlier VORKOSIGAN books. It’s actually three previously published novellas with a frame story. Simon Illyan, head of Imperial Security, is visiting Miles while he’s recuperating in the hospital after a surgery for bone replacements. Knowing that the government will start asking questions, Simon needs Miles to justify three large vague items in his expense reports. When Miles protests, Simon explains that because he’s the prime minister’s son, Miles must avoid even the appearance of shady accounting practices. And so Miles explains each item and thus we get the stories in the novellas “The Mountains of Mourning,” origi... Read More

Chrononauts: A wild ride!

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Chrononauts by Mark Millar and Sean Murphy

How else can I describe Chrononauts but as a wild ride? Mark Millar, the master of the blockbuster comic book, increases the action beyond his usual by cramming more events than you can possibly imagine into a four-issue mini-series. He collaborated on the idea with artist Sean Murphy, and the result is a buddy adventure story across time and place.

Dr. Quinn first creates an unmanned time machine — more of a satellite — that allows the world to observe events in the past on live television. Then, with the help of a friend, they develop a suit, equipped with a hundred-year battery, that allows whoever wears it to travel anywhere at any point in time. The suit even allows them to transport whatever they are touching — anything from an I-phone to a car to an airplane. So at certain points in the story, they drive fr... Read More

Jessica Jones, Scarred Hero: Essays on Gender, Trauma, and Addiction in the Netflix Series

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Jessica Jones, Scarred Hero: Essays on Gender, Trauma, and Addiction in the Netflix Series ed. Tim Rayborn & Abigail Keyes

It’s hard to fault an anthology for doing exactly what its title says it’s going to do, and so I won’t. I’m just going to note that Jessica Jones, Scarred Hero mostly focuses like a laser on its three sub-topics, particularly the latter two — trauma and addiction — and so if you are looking for a wide-ranging look at the character/series, one that might have essays dealing with class, gender, race, film techniques etc., this is not going to be that anthology. Personally, I found the sharp focus began to feel a bit constricting and certainly added to some slight repetitiveness/redundancy in the collection, but I’m not pointing to those as flaws, merely as warnings. If you desire a look at how addiction and trauma a... Read More

Stone Mad: Spirits, steampunk, and science

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Stone Mad by Elizabeth Bear

Elizabeth Bear instantly charmed me with her 2015 novel Karen Memory, in which a young “seamstress” battles against greed and corruption with the aid of her friends, a U.S. Marshal, and a hulking ambulatory sewing machine. The first follow-up tale, Stone Mad (2018), is a slight novella jam-packed with action, adventure, folklore, and romantic strife.

Karen Memery and her brilliant girlfriend, Priya, are treating themselves to a top-notch dinner at the Rain City Riverside Hotel, with plans to go see an illusionist’s widow performing his stage show afterward. Karen’s healed up from her previous effort to save Rapid City, they’ve moved from th... Read More

Champion of the Crown: A battle royale for the throne

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Champion of the Crown by Melissa McShane

The battle for the crown of Tremontane comes to a climax in Champion of the Crown (2018), the final book in Melissa McShane’s SAGA OF WILLOW NORTH fantasy trilogy. (Obligatory warning: here be spoilers for the prior books, Pretender to the Crown and Guardian of the Crown.) The first book focused on the escape from Tremontane of Willow North, her ex-fiancé Kerish of Eskandel, and eight-year-old Felix Valant, whose murderous (and magical) uncle Terence has usurped the throne of Tremontane, pursued by the new king’s mag... Read More

Paper Girls (Vol 3) by Brian K Vaughan

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Paper Girls (Vol 3) by Brian K Vaughan (writer) and Cliff Chiang (artist)

This is the third volume of Brian K. Vaughan’s Paper Girls, and if you thought you were starting to get a handle on where the story was headed, think again…

[SPOILER TERRITORY AHEAD - DON’T READ UNLESS YOU’VE READ VOLUMES ONE AND TWO]

The four paper girls are reunited in a completely new place somewhere far off in the future or past, and run into a savage young women who looks vaguely native American except for the technojunk strung around her neck. She is a fierce warrior, but despite her youth is carrying a baby on her back, and thanks to an interpreting device the girls brought with them, they can communicate. ... Read More

Aru Shah and the End of Time: Middle Grade mythology gets some diversity

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Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi

Aru Shah and the End of Time (2018), by Roshani Chokshi, is part of a new imprint by Disney-Hyperion aimed at middle grade readers and overseen by Rick Riordan in cohort with a senior editor to “elevate the diversity of mythologies around the world” and publish “entertaining, mythology-based diverse fiction by debut, emerging, and under-represented authors.” It should come as no surprise then that Chokshi’s novel, which has Hindu mythology at its core, bears more than a passing resemblance to Riordan’s own PERCY JACKSON series in form, content, and character. If its pedigree is obvious, though, Chokshi still manages to put ... Read More

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 relat... 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