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The Children of Húrin:  A fresh look at an old tale

The Children of Húrin by J.R.R. Tolkien

I am a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien's work, but certainly not an expert. This means that though I've read his three seminal works: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Silmarillion, I had very little idea of what The Children of Húrin was about when I picked up a copy at the second-hand bookshop.

My memory was jogged as soon as I started reading, and I realized that the story of Turin was one I had previously come across in The Silmarillion, Tolkien's massive tome that lays out the mythology and early history of Middle Earth. However, to quote from its pages: "Here that tale is told in brief... and it is called the Tale of Grief, for it is sorrowful, and in it are r... Read More

To Open the Sky: Silverberg comes roaring back

To Open the Sky by Robert Silverberg

It shouldn’t come as too great a surprise that future Grand Master Robert Silverberg dedicated 1967’s To Open the Sky to writer/editor Frederik Pohl. It was Pohl, after all, who induced Silverberg to begin writing sci-fi again on a full-time basis, after the author’s “retirement” from the field in 1959. As then-editor of “Galaxy” magazine, Pohl (who helmed the publication from 1961-’69) promised Silverberg a greater freedom in his writing, with fewer of the literary shackles that had restrained the author till then (not that anyone would have ever realized it, based on the author’s amazingly prolific output from 1954-’59, and the very high quality of that work). But with his new license to create... Read More

Happy Hour in Hell: Rip-roaring fun containing a deeper message

Happy Hour in Hell by Tad WilliamsHappy Hour in Hell is the second novel in Tad WilliamsBobby Dollar series. While readers might enjoy and appreciate the book more if they read The Dirty Streets of Heaven first, its sequel is one of those books that can be understood and enjoyed on its own merit, too. Happy Hour in Hell is darker than its predecessor, the world expands, Bobby Dollar is a more complex character (while never losing his humorous or cynical edge), and there’s strong emotional appeal. The book as a whole benefits from this immensely.

Happy Hour in Hell starts on a rather dark, lonely note with Bobby Dollar crossing the bridge to enter Hell. This sets the tone for the whole novel, which explores the afterlife and death in a nod to Dante... Read More

The Dispossessed: A master work which stands the test of time

The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin

The late 1960’s and early ‘70s was a magnificently productive time in Ursula LeGuin’s career.  Though she continued writing award-winning, successful novels, nothing matches the quality and quantity of her output in this time. The first three novels in the EARTHSEA CYCLE, The Left Hand of Darkness, The Word for World is Forest, and The Lathe of Heaven were all written then, each winning one if not more awards and flying off shop shelves. The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia, published in the middle of this stretch, rounds out the triumphant group and is considered by some her greatest achievement.

The Dispossessed is at heart the tale of Shevek and his struggle to acquire and d... Read More

Get in Trouble: More sucker-punching awesomeness from Kelly Link

Get in Trouble by Kelly Link

Kelly Link throws a mean sucker punch. Her latest short story collection, Get in Trouble, is calculated to get you — to draw you in under one premise, and then take you somewhere else entirely. It explores modern America through her special blend of genre-busting surrealism. Exploring various landscapes such as rural North Carolina, Florida swamps, and Southern California, Link exposes the inherent weirdness of our everyday lives. She spins out alternate realities based on the already-established facts of our existence, like online dating, personal digital gadgets, and fading television stars.

If there's a thread connecting these stories, it's that all of the characters are already in trouble. Whether experiencing the toxic peer-pressure of teenage years, or alcoholism and ennui of early adulthood, or t... Read More

Random: Far beyond the ordinary YA fantasy

Random by Alma Alexander

There's a group of Young Adult authors — I'm thinking of Robin McKinley, Juliet Marillier, Justine Larbalestier, and a few others — who write the kind of books that snooty adults who look down on YA in Internet articles have clearly never read. These are books that don't get made into popular movies, because most of what happens is internal to the characters.

This kind of YA has depth and resonance and significance. It shines a light on the path for young people (young women, in particular) who are looking for courage and a place in the world. It's been some time since I was young, and I've never been a woman, but I'm glad that young women have writers like these in ... Read More

The Dirty Streets of Heaven: Entertaining and unexpected

The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams

Tad Williams and I go way back. (Not literally, of course: If I walked up to him on the street, he wouldn’t know who I was.) He was one of the first epic fantasy authors I read and fully enjoyed. I have been an avid Tad Williams fan for years due to the high quality of his work. Understandably, I was champing at the bit to read The Dirty Streets of Heaven, an adult urban fantasy which is completely out of Williams’ epic fantasy zone. I was excited to see how he’d handle the change.

I’ve recently read a number of books which have proven to me that religiously-themed fantasy novels don’t have to contain a sermon. Even though the discussion of God, Heaven, sin, and angels are quite common in The Dirty Streets of Heaven, the title alone should tell... Read More

The Sculptor by Scott McCloud

The Sculptor by Scott McCloud

Reading The Sculptor by Scott McCloud: A Counter-Intuitive Approach to a Landmark Graphic Novel (An Essay-Review)

Scott McCloud’s new work — The Sculptor — is GENIUS. It’s EPIC. It’s the WORK OF A MASTER. It’s his MAGNUM OPUS. The Sculptor is the culmination of a lifetime of creating comics, writing about comics, and speaking about comics. Yes. Yes. YES!

The Sculptor is all these and rightly has been reviewed in almost every review publication that will take the time to review a comic book.* Th... Read More

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There: A chocolate box of a book

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente

Reading a book by Catherynne Valente is like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates: you never know what you're going to get. It could be glass forests with shape-shifting reindeer that used to live on the moon, or blue kangaroos that mine the underground for memories encased within precious gems, or families living in giant Samovars that serve teas called the Elephant's Fiery Heart or the Crocodile's Long Dream.

Like a post-modern Alice in Wonderland (though Valente has coined the term "myth-punk" to describe her work), this is the sequel to her first children's novel The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making, detailing the continued adventures of young wartime girl September throughou... Read More

A Different Kingdom: Rich with details and surprising maturity

A Different Kingdom by Paul Kearney

A Different Kingdom is a reprint of one of Paul Kearney’s first novels, first published in 1993. The good news is that this doesn’t read like an early novel in an illustrious career: it actually reads like something a well-practiced author would produce after a lot of hard work.

A Different Kingdom is set in the picturesque countryside of Ireland and the farm where Michael lives. Alongside this, perhaps on top of it or layered throughout it, is a fantasy world where other creatures live, creatures that seem to spring out of our own myths and legends. The fact that this other world is set in a landscape that has thrilled many (myself included) with beautiful myths and legends is just perfect. This is a book for dreamers.
When the wolves follow him from the Other Place to his family’s doorstep, Michael must choose between locking the... Read More

Ares: Bringer of War: A great new take on an old tale

Ares: Bringer of War by George O'Connor

Ares: Bringer of War is George O'Connor's sixth title in his OLYMPIANS series of graphic retellings of Greek myths for younger readers. Short take? I'm wondering why the Hades I don't own the first five, an oversight I will quickly rectify. Long take below . . .

I absolutely loved this book. Beginning with its opening segment on the distinction to be made between the two gods of War in the Greek pantheon: Athena and Ares. O'Connor begins with Athena, whom he calls the "the goddess of martial skill. Of formations, of strategy. Of training realized and wisdom applied." And the art presents just such a calculating image of war, with its highly symmetrical depiction of Greek soldiers, their feet, spears, bodies, and shields precisely aligned, all against a cool blue background. But war isn't always so neatly organized; it is often "chaotic, unpr... Read More

Lexicon: You’ll never look at words the same way again

 Lexicon by Max Barry

Compare two commonly-used adages: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” versus “The pen is mightier than the sword.” In your own life, which saying have you found to be truer? It's all well and good to claim that an intangible thought, either spoken or written, is less powerful than a physical object, but one can easily come up with several examples to the contrary: Discarded treaties between the United States government and various Native American tribal peoples; Chairman Mao's infamous little red book; documentation in South Africa upholding the so-called legality of apartheid; Stalin's issuance of the Great Purge and subsequent refusal to acknowledge its existence; Adolph Hitler's deranged, inflammatory Mein Kampf. Words are powerful, dangerous things. One might even say that they're magical. In Lexicon, by Max Barry, they are all... Read More

Horrible Monday: Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

When I read Terry Weyna’s review of Broken Monsters last year, I knew I had to get this book. Lauren Beukes’s earlier horror novel, The Shining Girls, was compelling and original, and Broken Monsters does not disappoint. More than a terrifying horror novel, it’s a study of ... Read More

Rivals of Weird Tales: Nary a clinker in the bunch!

Rivals of Weird Tales edited by Robert Weinberg, Stefan R. Dziemianowicz & Martin H. Greenberg

From 1923 – ’54, over the course of 279 issues, the pulp publication known as Weird Tales helped to popularize macabre fantasy and outré horror fiction, ultimately becoming one of the most influential and anthologized magazines of the century, and introducing readers to a “Who’s Who” of American authors. I had previously read and reviewed no fewer than six large collections of tales culled from the pages of “the Unique Magazine,” and had loved them all. But Weird Tales, of course, was far from being the only pulp periodical on the newsstands back when, as amply demonstrated in the appropriately titled, 500-page anthology Rivals of Weird Tales. In this wonderfully entertaining, generous collection, editors Robert Weinberg, Stefan R. Dziemianowicz and Martin H. Greenberg (who had put... Read More

Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem by Steve Niles

Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem by Steve Niles, Matt Santoro, & Dave Wachter

Though I’ve read multiple golem tales over the years, I became aware of their history the most fully after having read the extremely well-researched SF novel He, She and It by Marge Piercy. That was about twenty years ago, and I’ve been on the lookout for quality golem stories ever since. Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem is one of the best I’ve ever read, and it’s written by Steve Niles and Matt Santoro as a story that is appropriate even for young adult readers, ... Read More

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