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Unholy Land: Going on my Best of 2018 list

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Unholy Land by Lavie Tidhar

I absolutely loved Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station (and was not alone in that), and while his newest, Unholy Land (2018), didn’t blow me away quite to the same extent, it kept me on the couch in “don’t talk to me I’m reading” and “uh-huh, uh-huh, ya don’t say, uh-huh” mode all afternoon while my family just rolled their eyes and gave up, as they know to do when all the signs of being engrossed in a great book are manifest (luckily, they live those moments as well, so it’s a fond eyeroll ... )

The novel is set in an alternate universe setting where the Jewish homeland of Palestina appears not in the Middle East but in East Africa, ... Read More

The Last Unicorn: Withstands the test of time

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The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

Peter S. Beagle’s classic The Last Unicorn (1968) turns fifty years old this year, and it’s remained in the public eye and continues to capture hearts like very few fantasies of its age. Like a fine tapestry, this gorgeous fairy tale weaves together unicorns and harpies, wizards and witches, dark-hearted kings and brave heroes. Its lyrical language is embellished with whimsical humor and given heft by bittersweet life lessons.

A shy unicorn keeps to herself in her lilac wood, where time passes slowly, if at all, and leaves remain grain and never fall. But one day overhears passing hunters grumbling that they must be in the forest of a unicorn (“Creatures that live in a unicorn’s wood learn a little magic of their own in time, mainly concerned with disappearing”) and that this unicorn must be the last one in the world... Read More

Criminal (Volume 1): Coward: Noir comics at their best

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In Ed Brubaker’s Criminal (vol 1): Coward, we get noir comics at their best. Until I first read the Criminal series about ten years ago now, I was still not persuaded that comics could be a great form of art. But once I read this series, I was convinced I should read more: I thought, if comics can be this good, then there must be many more out there like this one. And so my passion for comics began with the story of Leo, a thief who always has a meticulous plan of escape laid out before he will consider taking on a heist, and in the case of Coward, the heist will get his team five million dollars worth of diamonds from a police van carrying contraband. Leo, unfortunately, is known as a coward because of his escape plans. He is known as someone who runs away.

At the time we meet our cowardly lion, Leo has tried to stop being a part armed robberies be... Read More

Batman: Year One: Worth reading and rereading

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Reposting to include Brad's new review.

Batman: Year One by Frank Miller

Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986) completely reinvented Batman as an angry and bitter older man coming out of retirement to stem a rising tide of crime in Gotham City alongside Police Commissioner Jim Gordon. This was a dark vision of a complex and troubled soul driven to fight crime to avenge his parent’s senseless death, and it resonated with a new generation of readers and gained comics greater credibility among mainstream readers. Just one year later Miller produced a four-part story arc called Read More

Spinning Silver: We all love this

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Reposting to include Taya and Nathan's new reviews.

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Let’s get this out of the way early. Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver (2018) is not perfect. It’s a little overlong, with a bit of a pacing issue about two-thirds of the way through. Beyond that, other problems include ... no, wait. I forgot. There are no other problems. And I lifted up each and every page to check under them. Zip. Nada. Nothing. So yeah, the biggest problem with Spinning Silver is kind of like the problem you have when the waiter brings out your chocolate cake dessert, and it’s a little bit bigger than you were planning on. Oh, the humanity.

My marketing info calls this a “retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin fairytale,”... Read More

Saga (Vol. 9): The most shattering volume to date

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Saga (Vol. 9) by Brian K. Vaughan (writer) & Fiona Staples (artist)

It’s been nine months since I read Vol 8 of Saga, which is something special. It’s the only comic series that I follow, and the characters are as vivid, complicated, lovable, despicable, cruel, and conflicted as any I know. This is a space opera that tackles the most difficult and relevant topics of our own society, doesn’t hesitate to shock readers, flip the script, and most frightening of all, doesn’t hold back from killing off major characters that we are deeply invested in. It’s a cruel message, that even the best people trying to just live their lives and maintain their ideals can be snuffed out by those with less scruples, and that those that have used violence in the past can rarely escape the consequences, even after having turned to a peaceful path. This volume will leave you stunned, g... Read More

The Book Thief: A tale of a girl told by Death

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

"Here is a small fact. You are going to die."

It is Death who speaks the novel’s opening lines. And Death himself, for the duration of Markus Zusak’s bestselling novel, will be our narrator. It is 1939 in Nazi Germany and whilst he takes away an increasing amount of souls, Death muses on the unravelling of humanity.

Upon taking the soul of a young boy on a train, Death notices a girl. Her name is Liesel Meminger and she has just watched her brother die. Her mother takes her to a town called Molching, specifically to a street named Himmel, which translates as heaven. Here she is taken into the care of Rosa and Hans Hubermann, a German couple whose son has been lost in the war. With the death of her brother and abandonment of her mother, Liesel must come to terms with her new life under the watchful eye of Rosa, who swears at anything that moves (if she is ... Read More

Psycho: The modern horror era begins

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Psycho directed by Alfred Hitchcock

It is not every filmmaker who can manage the difficult trick of coming up with four consecutive masterpieces, but that is just what British director Alfred Hitchcock was able to do as the late 1950s segued into the '60s. His 1958 offering, Vertigo, took time to find its audience but today is recognized by the British Film Institute's Sight and Sound magazine as the single greatest motion picture ever made; 1959's North by Northwest is surely one of the all-time great entertainments; 1960's Psycho practically jump-started the modern-day horror industry all on its own, and remains the director's most well-known film; and 1963's The Birds is still a baby-boomer favorite to this day.

But of those four films, all of which reside on my personal Top 100 Favorite Films list, it is the third, Psycho, that remains my favorite ... Read More

The Wizard Knight: A wonderful, deep, rewarding read

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Reposting to include Kat's new review.

The Wizard Knight by Gene Wolfe

The Wizard Knight by Gene Wolfe is one of the best fantasy novels to appear in the last decade or so. The novel is split into two separate books, The Knight and The Wizard, but like Gene Wolfe’s classic BOOK OF THE NEW SUN, it’s really one big story split into separate volumes and best read back-to-back.

The Wizard Knight tells the story of Sir Able of the High Heart, a knight who is really a young boy pulled from our own world to Mythgardr, one of seven connected worlds that are mirrored on a combination of Norse mythology, medieval history and Christian theology. One of those other worlds, Aelfrice, is home to Disiri, an Aelf queen who helps Able towards... Read More

Clockwork Apple: From Tezuka’s most mature period

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Clockwork Apple by Osamu Tezuka

Clockwork Apple by Osamu Tezuka is a collection of short stories from Tezuka’s most mature period of writing. The stories were published with dates ranging from 1968 to 1973. The collection itself was translated by Steven LeCroy and published in English by Digital Manga, Inc., a company that is making it possible for fans to read in English the great works of the “God of Manga.” There are eight stories in this collection:

“The Execution Ended at Three O’Clock” is about a Nazi officer who tortured and killed many people, in particular a doctor who is the focus of the story. The doctor has invented a special drug that slows down time, and the Nazi officer wants the formula. He eventuall... Read More

The Tiger’s Daughter: Give it a shot

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Reposting to include Bill's new review.

The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera

When I picked up The Tiger’s Daughter (2017), I didn’t know what I was getting into. Written as a long, dramatic letter between two old friends, it is an epic tale of loss, faith, political intrigue, and forbidden love. The Tiger’s Daughter is the debut novel from K. Arsenault Rivera, and set to be the first book in the series titled THEIR BRIGHT ASCENDENCY. The Tiger’s Daughter wends its way from the first time our heroes meet, over their entire lives, and up to the present — where one friend, the empress O-Shizuka, is reading said letter (the letter itself being the bulk of the book) from the other, Barsalayaa Shefali. Both are heirs to very different thrones and handle tha... Read More

Rock Manning Goes for Broke: A strange and original tale by a brilliant writer

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Rock Manning Goes for Broke by Charlie Jane Anders

The thing I loved the most about Rock Manning Goes for Broke, the 2018 novella by Charlie Jane Anders, is the narrative voce of Rock himself. Here are the opening lines:

Earliest I remember, Daddy threw me off the roof of our split-level house. “Boy’s gotta learn to fall sometime,” he told my mom just before he slung my pants seat and let me go.

That’s the flavor of this brief, fast-paced, action-packed dystopian, heroic dark comedy and kinda-love story.

Dad is not a psycho, or maybe he is, but he is also a stuntman, teaching his sons the trade. Rock gets older and enters school, where his class-clown antics bring him to the attention of the school bully, and also to the... Read More

Under the Air: This is the place to start if you have never read any Tezuka

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Under the Air by Osamu Tezuka

Under the Air by Osamu Tezuka, a collection of fourteen manga stories, was published from 1968 to 1970 and translated in 2017 by Grady Martin and published by Digital Manga, Inc. This collection is the place to start if you have never read any Tezuka. That this is a five-star collection would not be debated by any who read it; even Tezuka thought highly of it, and he was very critical of his own work. The afterword to this collection is the first one I have read that did not include Tezuka’s humble apologies for a less-than-perfect work. The manga collection is fully mature in its themes, and for the new reader interested in Tezuka, it introduces most of the topics that preoccupied him throughout his long career.... Read More

King Kong: Long live the king!

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King Kong directed by Meriam C. Cooper & Ernest B. Schoedsack

Of all the titles that appear on my personal Top 10 Films list, this is the one that I have a feeling every single person who is reading this has already seen. For we baby boomers, this is a film that has always been with us. We've seen it over and over on television, and many of us, including myself, have seen it over and over on the big screen. It has been an acknowledged classic ever since it first premiered in NYC on March 2, 1933, and has been wowing successive generations of film viewers ever since. Not surprisingly, the film was a smash hit when initially released, garnering almost $10 million at the box office (huge money, back when) after being put together for around $670,000. It is a film that is so very ubiquitous that at this point it might be taken for granted. But this viewer has never taken this movie for granted, and indeed, to this day, ... Read More

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle: A compelling murder mystery wrapped in an enigma

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The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

Debut author Stuart Turton’s The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (2018), originally published earlier this year in Great Britain as The 7 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, is an intricately plotted murder mystery, set in an isolated early 20th century English mansion, with a highly imaginative speculative element that is only gradually revealed, as our main character tries to figure out who he really is, and how to solve the mystery of Evelyn Hardcastle’s pending death … or has her death already occurred?

The plot and setting are worthy of Agatha Christie: Lord and Lady Hardcastle have invited a number of guests to their British country mansion, Blackheath House, for a weekend party to celebrate the return of their daughter, Evelyn, from Paris. (The notable guests ... Read More

The Thief Inoue Akikazu and Other Stories: Shows off Tezuka’s mature work

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The Thief Inoue Akikazu and Other Stories by Osamu Tezuka

The Thief Inoue Akikazu and Other Stories by Osamu Tezuka is one of the best collections of his short stories and shows off his mature work. Chloe Metcalf has done an excellent job in the translations, and we have Digital Manga, Inc. to thank for this volume’s availability in the United States. The stories were written from 1972 to 1979, and the collection was released in Japan in 1979. Digital Manga, Inc. released this translation in 2017. I hope there is much more to come from this company.

The five stories in this volume are not for kids. If anybody has been exposed only to Tezuka’s Astro Boy and other works for children, they will be shocked to read these tales. The first story, “The Record of Peter Kurten,” is based on a true story, a... Read More

SAGA Volume Two: A comic book that lives up to its name

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Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

SAGA Volume Two, Issues 7-12 by Brian K. Vaughan (author) & Fiona Staples (illustrator)

I’m so late to the party that the weekend is over and everyone is back to work on Monday. I like to write SF reviews to introduce new books to people who might not have read them yet, but SAGA is already so popular and well known that the only advantage to discovering this series so late is that I can read the first 5 volumes straight through without having to wait!

The story moves so propulsively you have to force yourself to slow down. The characters are so likeable that even the contract killers and military robot royalty are sympathetic. And the dialogue written by Brian K. Vaughan is so infectiously fun, snarky and charming that I kept laughing out loud. It’s a space opera, yes, and a story of star-crossed... Read More

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster: Best MG book I’ve read in some time

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Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster (2018), by Jonathan Auxier, is a wonderfully, bittersweetly poignant MG/YA book that I highly recommend for its warmth and gentle eloquence.

Set in Victorian England, Auxier’s Dickensian story focuses on young chimneysweep Nan, who grew up mentored in the field by The Sweep. When he disappears one night though, all Nan has left from him are his hat, her skills, and on odd lump of charcoal. Nan spends the next few years in indentured employment to the cruel, abusive Wilkie Crudd, but a near-fatal flue fire changes her life forever as she finds herself free of Crudd and a mentor herself, albeit to a child-like golem named Charlie rather than another chimneysweep.

There’s so much to love about Sweep, beginning with the main cha... Read More

Sourdough: Celebrates the appreciation of excellent food

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Sourdough by Robin Sloan

I really loved Robin Sloan’s Sourdough (2017), but not everyone will. You probably will if you’re a foodie (I am), an introvert (I am), and a bit geeky (I am). If you love sourdough bread (I do) and magical realism (I do), you’ve just got to read Sourdough. And you must try the audio version. It’s amazing.

Lois is new to San Francisco. She moved from Michigan, where she grew up, and she’s starting a job as a programmer of robotic arms at a tech company where everyone works so hard that they basically have no other life. Most of them just eat a nutritive slurry rather than bothering to plan, shop, and prepare meals.

Most nights Lois orders her dinner from a food delivery se... Read More

The Blue Sword: Strong female lead, interesting moral conundrum

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Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

This, my friends, is how young adult fantasy is done. In The Blue Sword, Robin McKinley has created a world out of whole cloth and polished it until it shines. Or in this case, until it is a dusty desert full of horse riding warriors, a dwindling magic, demon barbarians invading from the north, and civilized white men invading from across the ocean. McKinley is a master of prose, and this book has stood the test of time for almost 25 years now.

The Blue Sword is the story of Harry Crewe — don’t you dare call her by her given name of Angharad — who, upon the death of her parents, is sent to live at a fort on the Homeland frontier with her brother who is in the colonial ... Read More

Dogsbody: Another gem from the mind of Diana Wynne Jones

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Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones

My usual response to reading any book by Diana Wynne Jones is: "how does she come up with this stuff?" This is swiftly followed by bewilderment (especially in the wake of Harry Potter) that nobody has ever adapted any of her work, despite the fact her stories would make for excellent on-screen entertainment.

Dogsbody (1975) is no exception. It begins by introducing the immortal Dog Star Sirius, who is in serious trouble with his peers. Accused of murder and theft, Sirius is sentenced to life on Earth as a mortal dog, where he is sentenced to die after his considerably shortened lifespan. He has only one chance at redemption: he can return to his celestial home only if he tracks down the mysterious stolen Zo... Read More

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day: A brief, but tender, ghost story

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Reposting to include Tadiana's new review.

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire

Seanan McGuire’s novella Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day (2017) is a sensitive tale of love, loss, and regret — the kind that haunts people, turns them into ghosts, makes them flee thousands of miles from their homes, makes them linger somewhere long after it’s time for them to leave.

In 1972, Jenna Pace’s older sister Patty committed suicide in New York City, far away from her family home in Mill Hollow, Kentucky. Jenna, wracked with grief, ran out into a freak thunderstorm and tumbled into a ravine, where she died. Because her life ended before it was supposed to, though, Jenna remains in the living world as a ghost, able to make her body corporeal or in... Read More

Jirel of Joiry: A truly marvelous fantasy collection from C.L. Moore

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Jirel of Joiry by C.L. Moore

Just recently, I had some words to say regarding the stories that Golden Age sci-fi/fantasy author C.L. Moore placed in Weird Tales magazine, during the 1930s, that dealt with the futuristic smuggler/spaceman Northwest Smith. But as most fans of Catherine Lucille Moore will readily tell you, Smith was not the only character from this beloved writer who made semiregular appearances in the legendary pulp that decade. From October ’34 until April ’39, Moore also regaled readers with a wholly different character: Jirel of Joiry. Whereas the Smith series runs to a total of 11 stories, starting in November ’33 and winding up with a belated coda in June ’57, the Jirel series consists of a mere half dozen tales. The Smith series is an amalgam of sci-fi, fantasy and horror, set in... Read More

Northwest Smith: Some of the sturdiest pillars of Golden Age science fiction

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Northwest Smith by C.L. Moore

The original readers of the legendary pulp magazine Weird Tales could have had little idea of what a landmark release the November ’33 issue would turn out to be. Kicking off the magazine that month, and preceding stories by such already established veterans as Edmond Hamilton, E. Hoffman Price, Clark Ashton Smith and Mary Elizabeth Counselman, was a story with the unusual title “Shambleau,” written by an author who nobody had ever heard of … for the simple reason that “Shambleau” was the very first sale by the 22-year-old writer C.L. Moore Read More

Foundryside: Come for the action and characters, stay for the thematic depth

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Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

Bill: Robert Jackson Bennett hit the trifecta, as far as I was concerned, with his DIVINE CITIES trilogy. I placed each book pretty much immediately on my respective best-of-the-year lists as I finished them, and then, once the trilogy was completed, put the whole thing on my best-of-the-decade list. So it would be more than a little unfair to expect his newest novel, Foundryside (2018), to match that experience. But like a younger sibling following after a genius older sister or brother, Foundryside finds its own kind of greatness, a no-less pleasing but more “moderate” greatness if you’ll allow the seeming paradox. Even, I’d say, a stealthy greatness, the kind that sneaks up on yo... Read More