5

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

Shadowshaper: Five-star characters with five-star prose

Readers’ average rating: 

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

I’ve commented before that I give very few five-star reviews. Usually, I expect a book to somehow change my thinking, or how I see the world, in order to rate it a five-star book. As I sat down to write this review I was going to say something like, “While that didn’t happen with Shadowshaper, by Daniel José Older, I still…” and then I thought more about it, and decided that Shadowshaper has changed how I think about the world, mostly because of the time I spent with the main character, Sierra Santiago, who is a hero, an artist and a genuine girl.

As far at the plot goes (and it’s a fast-paced one) in many ways Sierra is a classic Chosen One, a trope that some of us feel has been done a... Read More

Railhead: Imaginative and entertaining from beginning to end

Readers’ average rating:

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Railhead by Philip Reeve

If the idea of a heist aboard a sentient train traveling at faster-than-light speeds appeals to you; if said heist involves assumed identities, the theft of a very old and valuable artifact, and a criminal thumbing his nose at a family-run corporation/empire; if you like believable romance and honest-to-goodness fun, then Philip Reeve’s latest YA novel, Railhead, is for you. (If none of that appeals to you, read on anyway: I may be able to change your mind.)

In a galaxy filled with novelties like sentient trains who travel at faster-than-light speeds on specially crafted rails through K-gates stationed on nearly a thousand worlds and moons, Zen Starling is a light-fingered teen wh... Read More

The King Must Die: Blurs the lines between myth, history and religion

Readers’ average rating:

The King Must Die by Mary Renault

"The voices sank and rose, sank and rose higher. It was like the north wind when it blows screaming through mountain gorges; like the keening of a thousand widows in a burning town; like the cry of she-wolves to the moon. And under it, over it, through our blood and skulls and entrails, the bellow of a gong."

Mary Renault weaves a tale so mythic in scope, that the story itself is only outshone by her fabulous prose. Renault takes the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur and works her narrative like Hephaestus works meta:; into a credible story that textures the myth with a realistic vision of its origin.

Theseus is the mythic founder of Athens who killed the Minotaur in the process of ending the Cretan demand for human tribute once every nine years. The King Must Die (1958) is the first in a ... Read More

And I Darken: A triumph

Readers’ average rating:

And I Darken by Kiersten White

We first meet Lada Dragwyla at the tender age of two years old. She is brandishing a knife. At her father. No scene could more succinctly introduce the character of our heroine: she is brutal, fierce, bordering on sociopathic. Kiersten White explained that And I Darken tells the story as if Vlad the Impaler had been born female, and what she has created is one of the most exciting and original characters in fiction that’s been seen in a very long time.

Lada’s story starts at the very beginning, in Wallachia, where she desperately tries to win the affection and respect of her father. But Lada is a girl, which means she is virtually invisible in the time of the Ottoman Empire. She has a younger brother, Radu, who could not be more different to his sister. Where Lada is ruthless and daring, Radu is gentle, sensitiv... Read More

The Sandman (Vol. 4): Season of Mists by Neil Gaiman

Readers’ average rating:

The Sandman (Vol. 4): Season of Mists by Neil Gaiman

The Sandman (Vol. 4): Season of Mists collections issues 21 through 28 of Neil Gaiman’s masterpiece, and since The Sandman, like most series, was a monthly, we should notice that by issue 21 Gaiman was wrapping up his second year on the title and well into his third year by issue 28. He had gained confidence in his writing, and he was getting comfortable working with different artists. He realized that The Sandman wasn’t going to be taken from him at a moment’s notice. The Sandman was just too successful to be cancelled. With that worry behind him, he could concentrate on making it the best series it could be over a period stretching out for as long as he wanted. The bigger problem would be arranging to have a successful comic stop where he wa... Read More

Desperation: In these silences something may rise

Readers’ average rating:

Desperation by Stephen King

My only disappointment in Stephen King’s Desperation is that it isn't longer. This book contains all that makes King so enjoyable to read: strong and believable character development; intuitive and subtle understanding of the childhood psyche; horror as defined by what's creepy, intense, psychological and sometimes gothic; mythological back-story that superbly connects past and present; and the believably supernatural.

Several travelers, mostly strangers to each other, are abducted by a seemingly deranged Sherriff and taken to the dusty Nevada town of Desperation. Mayhem ensues as King delves into the perverse and dark heart of humanity.

Desperation is not generally considered one of King’s stronger ... Read More

Sandman (Vol. 3): Dream Country by Neil Gaiman

Readers’ average rating:

The Sandman (Vol. 3): Dream Country by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman's Dream Country, the third volume in his Sandman series, is a collection of four stand-alone stories. I think it makes for a great introduction to the world of Sandman because each story is incredibly different from the one that precedes it; therefore, this particular volume is more likely to include at least one story that appeals to new readers who may be put off by a volume collecting only a single storyline. In fact, I recommend that readers new to S... Read More

The Sandman (Vol. 2): The Doll’s House

Readers’ average rating:

The Sandman (Vol 2): The Doll’s House by Neil Gaiman (author), Illustrated by Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III, Chris Bachalo, Michael Zulli, & Steve Parkhouse, Todd Klein (letterer) 

"If you leaf through the series, you'll find either an image of a heart or the word HEART in virtually every issue. Hearts are a major part of what Sandman is about."     ~Neil Gaiman (interview with Hy Bender)

Gaiman's words should be kept in mind as one continues to read what is essentially a horror comic. As we peer into the abyss, Gaiman makes sure we know we are not alone. I think Gaiman always offers hope through the possibility of human connection, often established through the power of telling stories. Keep these words of hope in mind as I summarize some stories that sound solely horrific; my overview can be misleading since I'm trying not to give spoilers. Assume the missing spoilers are often the ... Read More

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories: Presents all the flavors of life

Readers’ average rating:

Reposting to include Bill's new review:

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

Ken Liu is a writer of many talents, all of which are on full display in his first short story collection, The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories. Each of the fifteen pieces presented here is well-executed; many don’t have happy endings (as much as I would like them to), though Liu makes the best choices possible for the tales he’s telling, and I will admit that the end results frequently left me crying or stunned. He brings characters to life and makes you care about their situations, whether his fiction is based in historical fact or speculation upon a potential future. Despite the fact that these are all short works, dialogue is well-written, plots arc nicely, and character ... Read More

Ash: A Secret History: One of the most important books in the genre

Readers’ average rating:

Ash: A Secret History by Mary Gentle

I have long had a debate in my mind about the place of the woman warrior in fiction, particularly the type most often presented in epic fantasy/sword & sorcery. Robert E. HowardJoe AbercrombieGeorge R.R. MartinDavid Gemmell, and Tobias Buckell, for example, have all included the undaunted, sword-wielding, occasionally bra-defying warrioresses in their tales of adventure and battle. But in these stories, the women are most often just men with breasts. A distracting veneer i... Read More

Central Station: A snapshot of a strangely familiar time

Readers’ average rating:

Central Station by Lavie Tidhar

Central Station is a thoughtful, poignant, human take on a possible future. For the most part Central Station occurs at the titular port on planet earth. This space resides in what we know today as Tel Aviv, but in the distant future it has gone through many names and many people. Everything seems to begin in earnest when Boris Chong arrives in Central Station after spending a great deal of time away — some of which on Mars. Central Station, the place, is a half-thought meeting of a variety of worlds. Central Station the book is more thoughtful than I think I know how to express, but I’ll give it a try.

Central Station occurs in the very spot where humans expanded from our first planet throughout the solar system. Humans, robotniks, children who live... Read More

Sandman (Vol. 1): Preludes and Nocturnes

Readers’ average rating:

Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

Sandman (Vol. 1): Preludes and Nocturnes (Issues 1-8): Neil Gaiman (author), Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, and Malcolm Jones III (artists), Todd Klein (letterer), Karen Berger (editor)

[This essay is the second in an ongoing series on THE SANDMAN: This lengthy essay-review is for those who want a more thorough introduction than is offered in our shorter overview of the entire series. I recommend reading that one first, particularly since it contains no spoilers and it gives a good sense of what THE SANDMAN is for those who don't know what it's about. When I can, I avoid giving spoilers, but I can't avoid them altogether since I'm going over every story arc in the series. My main goal is to increase the enjoyment of those who want to tackle this masterpiece by calling attention to significant recurring themes, giving information about some of th... Read More

Children of Earth and Sky: Another masterwork from Guy Gavriel Kay

Readers’ average rating:

Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay

A new Guy Gavriel Kay novel is cause for great celebration and anticipation in our household, as he has authored some of our most beloved novels over the decades (by “our” I mean my wife, my fifteen-year-old son, and myself). A consummate storyteller and stylist (the two don’t always go hand in hand), his long-term consistency is remarkable, and his newest work, Children of Earth and Sky, finds him still at the top of his form.

One way to describe a Guy Gavriel Kay novel is that it’s a bit like peering at history as it unfolds at the bottom of a pool of water (think of the water as Kay’s artistic imagination) — you mostly recognize what you’re looking at, but thanks to the effects of refraction and distortion, it’s just a little off, both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. The same holds true he... Read More

The Antelope Wife: Dark, sad, beautiful and funny

Readers’ average rating:

The Antelope Wife by Louise Erdrich

In 1999, Louise Erdrich’s book The Antelope Wife won the World Fantasy Award. Erdrich is not a genre writer; she is firmly planted in literary territory, even if she and her husband did write romance novels under a pseudonym to pay the bills early in their marriage. The Antelope Wife is not a fantasy book. It is a beautiful, dark, sad, funny story, filled with magic and mythology, weaving Plains Indian and Ojibwa myths into a modern-day tale about a large and complicated family in 1990s Minnesota.

From the two cosmic twins who open the book, beading with dark and light, with milky white beads, the indigo beads and the dark red beads with white hearts, and whose threads and sinews comprise the lives of humans in the world, twins loom large in The Antelope Wife Read More

The Stand: The biggest, baddest tale of the apocalypse

Readers’ average rating:

The Stand by Stephen King

Stephen King's The Stand is an awesomely epic creation. It's good versus evil writ large across the American landscape. It's heavy, detailed, and extremely rich in the characterizations of its people and themes. The story is familiar — an apocalyptic virus is accidentally (and inevitably) released from a government lab. Over 99% of all human life is wiped out by what becomes known as Captain Trips. This story is about those who survived.

The survivors are polarized around two god-like characters that magnetize individuals through their dreams. Mother Abigail Freemantle, a 108-year-old woman from Hemingford, Nebraska draws those with inherent goodness. Randall Flagg, from nowhere and everywhere, draws those with a slightly more dubious na... Read More

How Great Science Fiction Works: A college course for science-fiction fans

Readers’ average rating:

How Great Science Fiction Works by Gary K. Wolfe

For years I’ve been a fan of the GREAT COURSES audiobooks, which I usually pick up at my library or at Audible. These are a series of college-level lectures devoted to a specific topic and delivered by an expert in the field. A couple of months ago they released a set called How Great Science Fiction Works. Our teacher is Gary K. Wolfe, a professor of Humanities who received a BA in English from the University of Kansas under the tutelage of science fiction writer James E. Gunn and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Chicago. Wolfe (no relation to Gene Wolfe)... Read More

Grimm’s Fairy Tales: An all-star cast narrates a new audio version

Readers’ average rating:

Grimm’s Fairy Tales by The Brothers Grimm

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, popularly knows as The Brothers Grimm, were German academics who, in the early 19th century, studied, compiled and published hundreds of folklore tales that have become an integral part of Western culture. They published their first edition of tales, titled Children's and Household Tales, or just Grimm's Fairy Tales, in 1812 and many editions have been published since.

Listening Library has just released a new audio version of 21 of the Grimm Brothers’ original fairy tales (not to be confused with the cleaned-up versions they later published as more suitable for civilized children). It’s narrated by a full-cast that includes some of the best and most popular readers in the business.

Here are the stories and narrators:

“Rapunzel” r... Read More

Lois Lane: Double Down: A worthy successor to Fallout

Readers’ average rating:

Lois Lane: Double Down by Gwenda Bond

Building on the successes of 2015’s Lois Lane: Fallout, Gwenda Bond takes everything that fans loved about that book and throws even more entertainment into its sequel, Lois Lane: Double Down. Excellent friendships? Check. An online romance between two people who respect one another and view each other as friends above all else? Check. Hard-nosed investigation of nefarious dealings, sprinkled with a dash of shadowy criminals? Check. Mysterious and possibly crackpot sightings of a flying man? Check. You don’t need to have read Fallout to enjoy Double Down — Bond does a great job of making sure there are allusions to the first book while letting the second stand on its ... Read More

Thriller: One of the scariest TV shows of all time

Readers’ average rating:

Thriller

Viewers who tuned into the new Thriller program on NBC, on the night of September 13, 1960, a Tuesday, could have had little idea that the mildly suspenseful program that they saw that evening — one that concerned a male ad exec being stalked by a female admirer — would soon morph into the show that author Stephen King would later call "the best horror series ever put on TV." The first eight episodes of Thriller came off as hour-long homages to Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which it immediately followed in the 9:00 slot; solid enough episodes of murder, intrigue and suspense, to be sure, with a touch of film noir at their heart. In the face of scathing reviews and poor viewership, however, the program brought in a new production team and drastically rebooted its image, gearing itself now more toward supernatur... Read More

Blindsight: Mind-blowing hard SF about first contact, consciousness

Readers’ average rating:

Blindsight by Peter Watts

This is ‘hard science fiction’ in the truest sense of the term — hard science concepts, hard-to-understand writing at times, and hard-edged philosophy of mind and consciousness. Peter Watts aggressively tackles weighty subjects like artificial intelligence, evolutionary biology, genetic modification, sentience vs intelligence, first contact with aliens utterly different from humanity, and a dystopian future where humans are almost superfluous and would rather retreat into VR. Blindsight (2006) is also a tightly-told story of an exploration vessel manned by five heavily-modified post-humans commanded by a super-intelligent vampire, and a very tense and claustrophobic narrative that demands a lot from readers. If that sounds like your kind of book, you’ll find this is one of the best hard science fiction books in the last 10 ye... Read More

It: Stephen King’s best

Readers’ average rating:

It by Stephen King

Stephen King's It is a wonderfully sweeping tale of what it means to be a child and what it means to leave your childhood behind, inevitably and mostly forgotten, when transforming into an adult. This very evocative tale of childhood orbits and surrounds a tale of exquisite horror, and is my favorite of the 25 or so King books I’ve read.

It story takes place in King’s old fictional haunt of Derry, Maine, and focuses on two time periods — 1957 and 1984 — where a group of friends, as children and then as adults, form a magnificent bond to battle foes both natural and supernatural. One member of this group frames the story well:

My whole pleasant life has been nothing but the eye of some storm I d... Read More

The Everything Box: Truly, deeply, madly hilarious

Readers’ average rating:

The Everything Box by Richard Kadrey

With The Everything Box, Richard Kadrey has made himself at home in the territory occupied by Christopher Moore. And by “made himself at home” I mean he’s kicked in Moore’s door, settled down on the couch, drunk all the booze, eaten all the chips and reprogrammed Moore’s DVR. Now Kadrey is looking across the hall where the Pratchett and Gaiman novel Good Omens lives, and saying, “Yoo-hoo, anybody home?”

Comic novels are hard, and for some reason science fiction or fa... Read More

Sleeping Giants: Sci-fi thriller debut is one of the best of the year

Readers’ average rating:

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

Sylvain Neuvel’s Sleeping Giants honorably borrows from notable films — Pacific Rim, The Iron Giant, and the Indiana Jones series — in this creative take on first contact in a contemporary world of shadowy government operatives, high tech archaeology, and mystery-shrouded alien technology.

Rose Franklin was the little girl who fell into the mysterious metal hand. Years later, with a physics Ph.D. in hand, Dr. Franklin is appointed to lead the investigation into the metal object.

The story itself is compelling: very few details emerge about the hand other than its bizarre physical makeup; when lightly irradiated, the metal glows; it’s clearly nothing that humans could make. But what is it? Is the hand just a hand ... or is there more?

Enter the mysterious ... Read More

The Exorcist: Deep, dark, literate horror

Readers’ average rating:

The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty

Sometimes I wish there weren't so many amazing books to read. Because every once in a while I come across a book so intricate, so subtle, and so intense, that without a second, slower, read, I know there is zero chance that I capture a true understanding the book in its entirety.

William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist is that kind of a book. It's creepy, crude and scary. On more than one evening while reading in bed, I found myself half jumping across the room only to find the cat poking his head through the door to see if it was breakfast time. One morning on my bus ride into work, I almost elbowed a poor woman in the head, so throughout engrossed I was in Blatty's deeply affecting novel.
What looked like morning was the beginning of endless night.
The Exorcist, which Bla... Read More

Can’t Get No by Rick Veitch

Readers’ average rating:

Can’t Get No by Rick Veitch

Rick Veitch is one of the best comic book artists and writers most people have never heard of. I’ve already reviewed one of my favorite books of his, Shiny Beasts, a collection of short stories. He also worked with Alan Moore on Swamp Thing, and he’s sort of what Alan Moore would be if he were primarily an artist, I believe. Consider this little plug for Rick Veitch’s Can’t Get No: “. . . supremely, magnificently strange, and like nothing else I’ve read.” And that’s from Neil Gaiman, author... Read More