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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

The Midnight Front: A compelling blend of demonology and history

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The Midnight Front by David Mack

The European theatre of WWII has been used as a staging device for so many forms of modern entertainment media that it’s hard to believe David Mack could find anything new or interesting to write about it in The Midnight Front (2018). And yet, he managed to come up with an angle I’ve never seen, implement it in a thoroughly researched and imaginative way, and open the door for subsequent books to examine the aftershocks of WWII throughout subsequent decades. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m impressed.

Oxford University-educated Cade Martin is set to leave London and head back to America with his parents, despite some mysterious warnings from a man who accosts them just before boarding their ship. Just a few days later, their ship i... Read More

Binti: The Night Masquerade: This conclusion is hopeful and triumphant

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Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor

Without giving any spoilers I must say that with Binti: the Night Masquerade (2018) Nnedi Okorafor triumphantly delivers a solid, hope-filled ending to this powerful and original story. As you may recall, Binti: Home ended on a cliffhanger, and while our main character endures even more trials and hardships in this third installment, she finds a way to embrace her gifts and her physical changes while remaining true to herself.

The book opens with a horrifying dreamlike sequence that Binti experiences while out in the desert with Mwinyi, an Enyi Zinariya tribesman. Binti, a Himba, was raised to view the Zinariya as barbarians and savag... Read More

Saga (Vol. 8) by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples

Saga (Vol 8) by Brian K Vaughan (writer) & Fiona Staples (artist)

It’s been six months since I read Vol 7 of SAGA, and after moving to London last summer we recently popped into Forbidden Planet in Soho, and that store is an absolute treasure trove of SF comics, books, and other fan goodies. There are so many enticing comics on offer there, you could spend your entire salary in one wild shopping spree. When I saw Vol 8 of SAGA with Wild West cover art among the new releases, I knew I had to have it.

SAGA is my favorite comic series, because it is always pushing the envelope in terms of content, themes, gorgeously assured and sometimes shocking artwork, and characters so charming, honest and flawed that you can’t help but cheer for them. If you like intelligent, snarky, sometimes profane space opera with a vast cast of star-crossed lovers, bounty-hunters, humanoid robots, t... Read More

Future Home of the Living God: Good, but bleak. Really, really, bleak.

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Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

It’s winter. It’s cold. Our government is a mess. If you’re looking for a flight from reality, a pleasant escape, or a cozy book that offers comfort, do not reach for Louise Erdrich’s 2017 novel Future Home of the Living God. It’s not that book.

On the other hand, if you’ve been wondering what an update of the Margaret Atwood classic The Handmaid’s Tale might read like, or you just love Erdrich’s prose and keen eye for detail, Future Home of the Living God... Read More

The Only Harmless Great Thing: A poetically imaginative work of social fiction

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The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander

Brooke Bolander’s The Only Harmless Great Thing (2018) is a lyrical, often moving, and sometimes searing novella that sets itself in an alternate reality that entangles two historical events: the public electrocution of Topsy the elephant at Coney Island in 1903 and the “Radium Girls” scandal in the early 1900s. That the two events were not simultaneous as in the novella is only part of the “alternate” part of this alternate reality. More central to the plot is the fact that elephants in this world are sentient.

The plot itself, which has two time strands, is relatively simple. In the early strand, Regan, a young radium girl already dying from the radiation she’s been exposed to in her job painting watch dials, trains a young elephant, Topsy, to replace her, both of them knowing what th... Read More

Mixed Up: Stories and cocktail recipes; both are intoxicating

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Mixed Up edited by Nick Mamatas & Molly Tanzer

Mixed Up (2017) is an anthology of cocktail-themed flash fiction and cocktail recipes, edited by Nick Mamatas and Molly Tanzer. The stories, like the drink recipes, are grouped by type and theme. I thought the editors took the most liberal view of “flash” here, because I think some of these works might run to 1200 words or slightly over, and I think of flash as topping out at 1,000 words. I don’t think there is a hard and fast threshold, and certainly the spirit of flash fiction (see what I did there?) is met.

Nick Mamatas says in his introduction to the stories that this is conceived as an old-fashioned “all-stories” magazine. The tales in the book includ... Read More

Monster Hunter: Siege: In which Owen learns a lot about himself

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Monster Hunter: Siege by Larry Correia

Monster Hunter: Siege is the sixth novel in Larry Correia’s MONSTER HUNTER INTERNATIONAL (MHI) series. If you’re a fan of Correia but haven’t read MHI, I can tell you that you’ll love it, so go back to Monster Hunter International and start there. If you’re totally new to Larry Correia and you’re not sure if MHI is for you, please read my review of Monster Hunter International — I th... Read More

No Time to Spare: More LeGuin is always a pleasure

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No Time to Spare by Ursula K. LeGuin

I’ve said for, well, what seems like forever now, that Ursula K. LeGuin is a national treasure. And so when she comes out with a collection drawn from her blog, I’m all in, even though normally I’d run like crazy from any such compendium. In fact, I’ve used the “sounds like a blog” line as criticism (the negative sort) of other collections of essays. And yes, there are several pieces about cats in No Time to Spare (2017), seemingly a required subject for anyone posting online. But I’ll accept the occasional cat essay if it comes stringing a bunch of other LeGuin essays along behind it.

LeGuin was inspired to begin her blog by reading Jose Saramago’s own, written when he was 85/86 and published as The Noteboo... Read More

Beneath the Sugar Sky: A delightful confection with a heart for diversity

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Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire

In Beneath the Sugar Sky (2018), the third book in Seanan McGuire’s WAYWARD CHILDREN series, we return to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, that haven for children and teens who once found their way through portals to other, magical worlds but have been involuntarily returned to ours. At Eleanor West’s boarding school, at least they find others who believe them and empathize, and desperately hope with them for a way to return to a magic world where they truly felt they belonged.

At Eleanor’s there's a new girl, Cora, cautiously making her way through the halls and through daily life. Cora's been teased and abused as overweight all her days, except for that glorious time she slipped through a portal to a world calle... Read More

The Best of Richard Matheson: Maybe not “the best,” but still plenty good

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The Best of Richard Matheson by Richard Matheson

Almost precisely two years ago, I had some words to say about a then-new anthology that had been released by Penguin Classics: Perchance to Dream, a 300+-page collection of short stories by the author Charles Beaumont. Flash forward two years, and I am now here to tell you of a 2017 Penguin release that almost serves as a companion volume to that earlier book: The Best of Richard Matheson, a generous, 400+-page whopper that should come as a welcome treat for fans of the late, great author. I say “companion volume” for several reasons. The authors w... Read More

A Dirty Job: …but someone’s got to do it, right?

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A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore

For a long time, I’ve been fascinated the ways in which humans personify the concept of Death — a hooded and black-robed spectral reaper, a suave and irresistible man, a rider on horseback who visited the houses of the soon to be deceased, and many others. In the case of A Dirty Job (2006), Christopher Moore presents a nervous and twitchy Beta Male named Charlie Asher who operates a secondhand-items shop in San Francisco.

Charlie had what he thought was a decent life: he and his wife Rachel just had their first baby, the shop is doing well, and he’s got a great relationship with his sister Jane. But then people he comes into contact with start dying right before his eyes, strangers are bringing him objects that glow bright red, a... Read More

Black Magick, Volume 001: Awakening by Greg Rucka

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Black Magick, Volume 001: Awakening by Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott

Black Magick, Volume 001: Awakening was published by Image Press in 2016. It follows a Portsmouth, New Hampshire police detective, Rowan Black, as she investigates a series of crimes that seem to be pointing at her. It’s worrisome; in addition to being a cop, Rowan is a witch, and these crimes hint at a magical enemy who has targeted both Rowan and her coven. Poised in the potential crossfire is her non-magical partner Morgan, whose wife is about to have their first baby. For whatever reasons, Rowan has not shared her belief system with her colleagues so there is also the risk that uncovering the perpetrator will “out” her.

After a highly visual opening that has the feel of a television teaser, Awakening plunges us right into the story. Ro... Read More

Creatures of Will and Temper: A Wilde pastiche

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Creatures of Will and Temper by Molly Tanzer

Molly Tanzer took quite a bit of inspiration from Oscar Wilde’s classic 1891 novel The Picture of Dorian Gray for her 2017 novel Creatures of Will and Temper, and yet manages to make her story far more unique than simply gender-switching some characters and tossing in modern-sounding references to changing social mores.

Evadne Gray and her younger sister Dorina are completely different — Evadne loves fencing above all else, while Dorina nurtures dreams of someday becoming an art critic — so being forced to take a trip to London together, with Evadne acting as Dorina’s chaperone, is cause for tremendous friction between the two. Th... Read More

The Squirrel on the Train: Oberon and Atticus solve another mystery

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The Squirrel on the Train by Kevin Hearne

Kevin Hearne’s IRON DRUID CHRONICLES (IDC) series is immensely popular, partly because of the Iron Druid’s hilarious canine side-kick, Oberon the Irish Wolfhound. The IDC novels are especially good in audio format, thanks to Luke Daniel’s amazing performance. His characterization of Oberon is particularly excellent.

Hearne and Daniels have smartly capitalized on Oberon’s popularity by spinning off a delightful series of novellas that feature Oberon as the protagonist and narrator. You do not need to read these in publication order; each can stand alone. However, it’s helpful (but not at all necessary) to be caught up with the IDC novels since some of the characters (e.g. Orlaith a... Read More