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Walking to Aldebaran: Literary musings in an alien cavern of horrors

Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky

I never know what to expect from Adrian Tchaikovsky, but he’s always entertaining. Walking to Aldebaran (2019) is unlike anything I’ve read from Tchaikovsky to date, a powerful, literary SF novella with an edgy, dark sense of humor and a strain of horror that gradually intensifies until its shocking ending.

British astronaut Gary Rendell is part of an international space team sent from Earth to explore a moon-sized, alien-made object ― officially called the Artefact, unofficially called the Frog God because of its appearance in photos ― that a space probe has found lurking in the outer reaches of our solar system. Through a series of events that are gradually unfolded to the reader, Rendell is now wandering alone inside the cold, endless, crypt-like tunnels i... Read More

Small Spaces: A delicious autumn read

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

I fell in love with Small Spaces (2018) from the first paragraph. Before I even realized this was the same Katherine Arden whose adult fiction I’ve been meaning to read for years, and before I got caught up in the richly drawn characters and the spooky plot, I was smitten by this:
October in East Evansburg, and the last warm sun of the year slanted red through the sugar maples. Olivia Adler sat nearest the big window in Mr. Easton’s math class, trying, catlike, to fit her entire body into a patch of light. She wished she were on the other side of the glass. You don’t waste October sunshine. Soon the old autumn sun would bed down in cloud blankets, and there would be weeks of gray rain before it finally decided to snow. But Mr. Easton was teaching fractions and had no sympathy for Ol... Read More

The Ten Thousand Doors of January: Go read it now

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

The Ten Thousand Doors of January (2019), by Alix E. Harrow, is one of the most beautiful books you will read in 2019. It may be one of the most beautiful books you’ll read in your lifetime. When I say it’s beautiful, I don’t simply mean the prose and the imagery, although those both are gorgeous. I mean that this is a beautiful story. The journey of January Scaller, set against the USA’s Long Gilded Age, is a story of plausible hope, of learning to use your own power, and a story of the power of stories.

January Scaller is an “in-between” girl, the ward of the wealthy, powerful and mysterious Cornelius Locke. She is always conscious of her tenuous status.
Sometimes I felt like an item in Mr. Locke’s collection labeled "January Scaller... Read More

Gods of Jade and Shadow: Romantic fantasy set in 1920s Mexico

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Casiopeia Tun is the poor relation of the Leyva family, put to work as a servant to her grandfather, aunts, uncles, and cousins. It’s established early, though, that she’s not one to take easily to subservience. Sure, she’ll probably do what she’s told — eventually — but it won’t be with a smile. She cherishes a few modest dreams of the things she’d see and do if she could only escape the family home and the dusty little town of Uukumil. When the family leaves her out of an outing as punishment, she sees her chance and opens the forbidden chest in her grandfather’s room. She’s hoping for a few coins to fund her escape to Mérida. Instead, she awakens Hun-Kamé, a Mayan death god.

It turns out that he was imprisoned there by his jealous brother, Vucub-Kamé, in order to usurp the throne of the underw... Read More

The Last Light of the Sun: Another lovely historical fantasy by GGK

Reposting to include Bill's new review.

The Last Light of the Sun by Guy Gavriel Kay

The Last Light of the Sun is another of Guy Gavriel Kay’s lovely historical fantasies. This one blends Norse, Celtic, and Anglo-Saxon histories with a bit of faerie mythos. We follow a few main characters from each of these societies as they interact with each other to shape their land and destinies. As usual in a Guy Gavriel Kay novel, we see the struggles from each perspective, so there’s no single “hero” or “villain.” We understand what motivates each of the characters and their culture and we can admire their strengths and recognize their weaknesses. In the end, we want everyone to win but, of course, that’s not what happens.

I thought the cast of The Last Light of the Sun was not as accessible or compelling as that of Tigana Read More

Hellboy (Vol. 5): Conqueror Worm: Hellboy shows its pulp roots

Hellboy (vol. 5): Conqueror Worm by Mike Mignola (writer/artist) & Dave Stewart (colorist)

The comic opens in 1939 with Lobster Johnson, Mignola’s pulp fiction-like hero, invading a Nazi stronghold in a castle just as they launch a manned ship into space. Johnson and the United States soldiers are too late to stop it as it launches just as they invade the castle. The castle explodes at the moment of launch, making that day rumored to be Lobster Johnson’s final mission (Mignola also has a series of books about Lobster Johnson’s adventures). Sixty-one years later, the ship is scheduled to come to Earth. Hellboy and the homunculus Liz brought to life, now known as Roger, are sent there to meet it. Of course, getting up in the mountains on foot to that destroyed castle is no easy feat. And, unfortunately for Hellboy and Roger, it gets much harder from there.

Thus begins another excellent volume in the Hellboy series. There ... Read More

Shadowhouse Fall: Still magical, still powerful, still wonderful

Reposting to include Kelly's new review.

Shadowhouse Fall by Daniel José Older

Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper was one of the best books of 2015 — not “best YA books” but best books of all categories. It featured an engaging, authentic female hero, an original magical system, mundane issues as well as magical ones, and a distinctive voice and sensibility. 2017’s sequel, Shadowhouse Fall, shows no second-book slump in this series.

Sierra Santiago is mastering her skill as a shadowshaper, an ability that melds spirit contact with art, and adjusting to her new role as the Lucera, but things are not calm or quiet in her neighborhood. A powerful rival group called the Sorrows still purs... Read More

State Tectonics: A surprising and triumphant ending

State Tectonics by Malka Older

State Tectonics (2018) is the third book in Malka Older’s CENTENAL CYCLE trilogy. The series is a Hugo finalist in the Best Series category. It did not end the way I expected it to!

(This review may contain spoilers for the previous books.)

At the end of Null States, the second book, the handful of main characters had uncovered a plot, not just against the micro-democracies, but against Information, the worldwide information-provision system itself. Now, in the third book, three or four baffling threads converge into a tangle of motivations, betrayals and, ultimately, revelations.

Since the events in Null States Read More

The Violent Century: A thoughtful exploration of heroes and history

The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar

Thanks to his two most recent novels, Central Station and Unholy Land, Lavie Tidhar has quickly become one of my favorite contemporary novelists, and so when I was given the opportunity to read a re-release of his earlier book, The Violent Century (2013), I leapt right on it. Clearly, the last two books were not evidence of some sudden leap upward in achievement, as The Violent Century stands side by side in craft, structure, and thoughtfulness.

The novel posits an alternate history where in the early 1930s, a “probability wave” (promulgated accidentally by a German scientist) c... Read More

Exhalation: The very best kind of speculative fiction

Exhalation: Stories by Ted Chiang

Ted Chiang’s stories are the very best kind of speculative fiction. They’re modern, sophisticated, intelligent, clever, thoughtful, and entertaining. Best of all, they’re full of futuristic science and explorations of the personal, sociological, and ethical considerations we may be facing as science and technology advance.

Most of the stories in Exhalation have seen print before; only two are new. Here are my thoughts on each:

"The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" — Originally published in 2007 by Subterranean Press, winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards. A man in Baghdad visits a merchant who shows him a gate that allows his customers to go backward and forward in time. Both amusing and poignant, and told in a series of nested vignettes, this thoughtful novel... Read More

Shadowshaper: Five-star characters with five-star prose

Reposting to include Kelly's new review.

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 (2015) 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 som... Read More

Hellboy (vol. 4): The Right Hand of Doom: Continues to build the Hellboy mythos

Hellboy (vol. 4): The Right Hand of Doom by Mike Mignola (writer and artist) and Dave Stewart (colorist)

Hellboy (vol. 4): The Right Hand of Doomis an excellent collection of stories grouped into three sections. While not all the tales here tie into the larger plotline of Hellboy’s grand storyline, they are all worth reading.

Part one of the book starts with a short two-page story, followed by two other stories from the early years. In “Pancakes,” Hellboy is a young boy and in the two following stories, he is just old enough to go on missions. “Pancakes” opens on a young Hellboy refusing to eat “pamcakes” because they are “yucky,” only to discover to his delight that he actually likes them. Meanwhile, in Hell, there is quite a reaction to young Hellboy’s culinary discovery.

In “The Nature of the Beast,” Hellboy is handed a spear and sent out to slay a dragon. The mis... Read More

The Little Prince: A thoughtful and timeless classic

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Nominated this year for a Best Novella within the 1944 Retrospective Hugo Awards category, The Little Prince is a slight, yet powerfully thought-provoking work. Originally published by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in 1943, who filled each page of his story with charming watercolor illustrations, it tells the story of a pilot who has crash-landed in the Sahara Desert with “only enough drinking water for eight days” and who, upon his very first night, is visited by an extraordinary child who asks for a drawing of a sheep.

As the pilot says, “In the face of an overpowering mystery, you don’t dare disobey,” and after many failed attempts he manages to come up with a drawing which pleases the child, whom he calls “the little prince.” As they come to know one another, the pilot learns about the little prince’s home planet and the other... Read More

The Brightest Fell: “Magic can be reversed. Trauma isn’t that simple.”

The Brightest Fell by Seanan McGuire

After two “monster of the week” episodes, The Brightest Fell (2017) brings us back to the secrets that were revealed in The Winter Long, surrounding Amandine, Simon, Eira Rosynhwyr — and Toby’s long-lost sister, August. But first, Seanan McGuire draws us in, as she did in Once Broken Faith, with a heartwarming scene of comic relief. This time, it’s Toby’s bachelorette party. The. Luideag. Sings. Karaoke. You don’t want to miss this.

The cozy mood is not to last, though, because Toby’s estranged mother Amandine shows up afterward. She wants Toby to find August. No... Read More

SAGA Volume 9: A shattering volume

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

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 wi... Read More

Hellboy (vol 3): The Chained Coffin and Others: Building the Hellboy mythos

Hellboy (vol 3): The Chained Coffin and Others by Mike Mignola (writer and artist),

Hellboy (vol 3): The Chained Coffin and Others does not continue the main storyline of Hellboy started in volumes one and two; instead, Mignola collects a handful of Hellboy tales in this trade edition:

In “The Coffin,” Hellboy makes his appearance in Ireland in 1959 as a mother cries over her baby, who she is convinced is a changeling. “Get to the crossroads by the strike of middle-night under the corpse tree,” screams the changeling-baby when Hellboy tortures it with iron. And Hellboy is off to the crossroads to make a deal with three creatures. Next thing you know, he is on a quest with a dead man hanging off his back. Only if he is successful will he be able to return the baby to her mother. “The Coffin” is one of Mignola’s best short stories.

Hellboy makes an appearance in Ireland again, ... Read More

The Winter Long: One of the best books in a very good series

The Winter Long by Seanan McGuire

Seanan McGuire’s OCTOBER DAYE series is one that can be divided into two types of books: ones that develop the larger “metaplot,” and ones that deal with more episodic concerns (though the events of the episodic books tend to have important consequences later in the series).

The Winter Long (2014) is a metaplot book, and it’s a doozy.

Toby is ready to crash after the new Queen’s winter solstice party, when the doorbell rings. It’s Simon Torquill: twin brother of Toby’s liege lord, and the man who turned Toby into a fish way back at the beginning of Rosemary and Rue. And he wants to bury the hatchet. He wasn’t trying to ruin Toby’s li... Read More

Hellboy (Vol. 2): Wake the Devil: Hellboy must face his destiny

Hellboy (Vol. 2): Wake the Devil by Mike Mignola (writer and artist) and James Sinclair (artist)

In this second Hellboy volume, Wake the Devil, Mignola goes big by revealing more of Hellboy’s destiny. Hellboy confronts a ghostly but still powerful Rasputin (the key figure in volume one who brought Hellboy to Earth). Rasputin also confronts Abe Sapien, whose life is particularly at risk since he killed Rasputin in volume one. But before Rasputin makes his appearance to Hellboy and crew, they go on a hunt for a vampire thought to be killed by Hitler.

The vampire was a key figure for the Nazis before Hitler decided to do away with him at the end of the war. In fact, the vampire, Giurescu, was originally recruited in 1944 by Rasputin’s right-hand woman, Ilsa Haupstein. This was a part of what was to be called project Vampir Sturm.In the present, still angry over his r... Read More

Poe Dameron Vol. 5: The Spark and the Fire: A rewarding wrap-up to a great series

Star Wars: Poe Dameron Vol. 5: The Spark and the Fire by Charles Soule & Angel Unzueta

They certainly left the best for last, as this final instalment in the POE DAMERON series involves exciting new adventures, several important “gap fillers”, seriously beautiful artwork, and some much-needed development and introspection from our titular character.

Whereas the previous volumes have all taken place before The Force Awakens, this one jumps ahead to the aftermath of the battle of Crait, in which Poe, Finn and Rey (and BB-8 of course) are finally able to catch up on the Millennium Falcon. This means that until Episode IX comes out in December 2019, this comic contains the most recent chronological events in the saga.

It’s great to see our three leads finally interact with one another, and their warmth and witty banter makes me wonder (not for the first time) why on earth they had to ... Read More

The Raven Tower: Intelligent, thoughtful, and visceral

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie

The Raven Tower (2019) begins, as so many fantasy tales do, with a young man returning home to claim the powerful title and honor which are his birthright. Upon his arrival, he discovers that his father has gone missing and is presumed dead, while his uncle has taken the seat of power for himself with the promise that it will be given over to the young man when the time is deemed to be right (with the implicit understanding that the uncle will never do so). The young man then sets about proving his uncle’s perfidy and setting the countryside back to its normal state of affairs with the help of a few trusted friends. Despite much hardship and sacrifice, the young man succeeds in usurping the usurper, titles and honor are bestowed upon him, and everyone lives happily ever after, right? Right.

Except Read More

SAGA Volume 4: Unafraid to address topics close to our hearts

SAGA Volume Four, Issues 19-24 by Brian K. Vaughan (author) & Fiona Staples (illustrator)

Saga is one of those series that is so wildly popular, like Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, or The Sopranos, that you start to worry how the writers can maintain its high quality. Can they keep up the momentum, originality, artistic integrity, and entertainment that make the series so special? Or will they hit a wall and produce a total stinker of an ending, like Lost, or just fade into mediocrity like Glee. I’m so invested in the characters and world-building that it would be a tragedy if things headed south. So I’m glad to report that Read More

God Country: A sentient sword comes to Texas

God Country by Donny Cates (author) and Geoff Shaw (artist)

God Country is a graphic novel you have got to check out. It is one of the best works by my favorite new comic book author, Donny Cates, who has written other great comics like Redneck for Image and Thanos Wins for Marvel. In God Country, Cates tells the story of the Quinlan family and the arrival of a powerful sword that enters their lives and changes them radically.

The sword, Valofax, is a giant sentient blade that is the embodiment of all swords and knives throughout the universe. It changes the life of a small family: Grandfather Emmett Quinlan, his son, and his son’s wife and young daughter. The story takes us from Texas to Hell and finally to the far-off home of Valofax, whose creator wants the sword back even as his planet dies all around him.

W... Read More

Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Volume 3 & Volume 4

The Buying of Lot 37: Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Volume 3

Who’s a Good Boy?: Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Volume 4

by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor

So many spiders. So, so many spiders.

Night Vale, as a town, is not for the faint of heart, especially if one has a problem with arachnids. (“Throat spiders” is a common ailment, the very idea of which makes me want to vomit until I die.) It’s also infested with deer, many of whom have extra eyes and heads, and thanks to the largesse of Night Vale Community College alumna Mrs. Sylvia Wickersham, thousands of English Angora rabbits. Because a Whispering Forest that ensnares victims with compliments, a tiny civilization underneath the bowling alley and arcade complex, and hordes of bloodied warriors wandering through the desert wastes are super-fun and scary, but not quite scary enough to make me check and double-... Read More

Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Volume 1 & Volume 2

Mostly Void, Partially Stars: Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Volume 1
The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe: Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Volume 2


by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor

Perhaps you’re familiar with the Welcome to Night Vale podcast, created in 2012 by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, which takes the form of twice-monthly, roughly-30-minute dispatches from the community radio station in a small, exceptionally weird and yet utterly normal desert town. If you haven’t listened to the podcast, now in its seventh year, perhaps you’ve read the stand-alone novels Welcome to Night Vale or It Devo... Read More

A Brightness Long Ago: Beautifully evocative and moving

A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay

I confess that I always dread just a little bit reviewing a new Guy Gavriel Kay novel. Not because I’m concerned it won’t be any good; Kay writing a bad book would have to be on anyone’s list of Impending Signs of the Apocalypse. But because what makes his books not just good but stand-out good is so damn ineffable.

Granted, not solely so. I can easily toss off a host of tangible, well-crafted elements, all the usual suspects: fascinatingly rich characters, compelling plots, immersive world-building, etc. But the single best reason I can think of for reading a Guy Gavriel Kay book is the supreme elegance and grace of his writing. Which also happens to be the single worst recommendation for reading a Guy Gavriel Kay book. “Elegance and grace?” the potential reader says. ... Read More